“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jesus, in John 8:12)
This is one of Jesus’ famous “I AM” sayings, unique to John’s Gospel. It is a powerful statement and, no doubt, robust with meaning. But one part of this saying has troubled me. It’s Jesus’ claim, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” How can that be? I’ve been working at following Jesus for most of my life, yet I have felt myself no stranger to a darkened and unsure path. Every Christian I know has at some point said the same.
Never walk in darkness? Really?
Consider this. There are two kinds of lights: search-light and lamp-light. And there are two places to be lit: inside us and outside us. So, which light goes where?
Our idea is this: Search-light on the outside and lamp-light on the inside. Why? Simple. On the one hand, most of us would give a great deal in order to see into the future with the search-light concerning our marriages, children, friendships, careers, financial decisions, etc. On the other hand, we are not so interested in God or anyone else seeing clearly into our inner life. The dimness of lamp-light will do fine there, thank you. We’d like our failures, hurts, sins, addictions, griefs, and embarrassments to remain in as much dark as possible.
But God has the exact opposite idea: Search-light on the inside and lamp-light on the outside. The truth is all people walk, at best, by lamp-light. If you’ve spent time sitting in a hospital, you’ve been someone, or been close to someone who’s been walking by lamp-light whether you or they wanted to or not. Finding a mate, being married, raising children, losing a job, starting a job, losing a friend or family member… all of these occasions and more remind us that we walk through life by lamp-light whether we want to or not. This is the way life works.
So, in Christ, God offers us a particular sort of lamp-light. Jesus is himself that lamp-light for life’s path. Much of our relationship with Jesus is spent learning lessons about trusting to walk by his lamp-light, that is, with only enough light to see the next one or two faithful steps. That’s it. He is reliable, but we must “trust and obey,” to quote the old hymn. But Jesus is also the search-light on the inside, bringing into the light the shame and pain, sin and hurt, that we tried desperately to keep in the dark. His light exposes, to be sure. But his light also heals, forgives, reconciles, and saves. His search-light deals with what’s on the inside of us that hinders our ability to “trust and obey” the lamp-light he offers to walk through life. Who else would we want to trust to be our lamp-light and to shine his search-light on us but Jesus? After all, he is the one who felt the brightness of the search-light in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me”) yet who walked by lamp-light (“yet not my will, but yours be done”) all the way to the Cross in order to save, heal, forgive, and make us whole in him.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” May we receive his search-light within so that we trust him to lead us by lamp-light through life.