Saturday, August 18, 2007

Interlude: Fiat Lux Redux

Before finishing completely with the first chapter of Genesis and moving on to a consideration of the two trees that God placed in the Garden of Eden, I want to take one last look at the implications of “Let there be light.”
We are told that, after causing it to come into existence, God “divided” the light from the darkness and called the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” We usually think of darkness as the absence of light; that is, we think of darkness as something which has no existence independent of the existence of light. Light is the up, if you will, to the necessarily corresponding down that is darkness. Yet it was light that God created, and then separated from the apparently preexistent darkness. It would therefore seem that, actually, light is the absence of darkness. In terms of physics, this is may be a nonsensical way to look at it. But, as a metaphor for the spiritual lives of men, it seems to me to embody a profound truth.
Consider, for instance, the minimalist New Testament recapitulation of the Creation in the Gospel of John:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[2] The same was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
[4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
[5] And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Here, light is equated with life, with the Word, that is, with the Christ, and the Christ with “the light of men.” We recognize this light as that spark of the divine by virtue of the possession of which man is said to be made in God’s image. And all the rest is a surrounding darkness that obscures the light, imposing an ignorance of its salvific presence. Darkness is not, then, merely a neutral absence of the goodness that is light; rather, it is an obstacle—a kind of firewall between matter and life.

We, in our ordinary thinking, do not consider darkness to be a mere absence of light; we experience it as a menacing presence to be feared and avoided. We are afraid of the dark, afraid of the night and of the menacing spirits which populate it. The devil, Satan, is referred to as the Prince of Darkness and as the Prince of This World. As the embodiment of evil, Satan is also the embodiment of a dualism; a struggle of Darkness against the Light; of spirit against matter.

The ultimate futility of this struggle on the cosmic level is reversed on the microcosmic, terrestrial level, where the darkness of sin, and the allure of evil, so often, and so easily, overwhelm the will of the spiritual pilgrim, placing an endless series of stumbling blocks on the path of his arduous journey toward the Source of all light. We will see this struggle acted out by the dramatis personae playing their existentially predestined rôles on Eden’s tragic stage.