And Night Will Be No More
Every Monday morning, I listen to Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk entitled, “We Need to Talk about an Injustice.” Sometimes I watch and listen, sometimes I just listen, and at times I sit with the transcript of his talk. Each time I find something new, a fresh challenge or insight that I find inspiring or energizing (to use a good Stevenson word). Much of what he says has haunted me since I’ve begun listening closely to his talk, but one concept in particular has become a close friend to challenge, inspire, convict, and comfort me. In speaking about the racial injustice that is woven into the history of our country, Stevenson addresses a crowd that has come to hear about the latest and greatest human innovations, saying:
We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, marginalization. We love innovation. We love technology. We love creativity. We love entertainment. But ultimately, those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, marginalization.
Is this not the tension that we all feel? We have the opportunity to live lives of decadence and extravagance such as the world has hardly ever seen and then through our television or computer screens, our smartphones, and our tablets (through our technology, innovation, and creativity) we hear the news of mass murders still taking place across the world. We were not even a year removed from the murder of the Emmanuel 9 when we woke to the news of the shooting in Orlando. And yet with the flip of a switch, the press of button, the touch of a screen, or the sound of our voice, we can use the very innovation, technology, and creativity that brings us instant news from distant parts of the world to insulate ourselves from the problem. We can pretend the shadow of suffering is not as dark where we stand if we turn off our screens, and with them our compassion.
Stevenson has a different view for how innovation and suffering come together. He says:
For me, it becomes necessary to integrate the two. . . . There is no disconnect around technology and design that will allow us to be fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice.
Did you hear that last part? In a world in which we are (or at least I am) tempted to use innovation, technology, and creativity to shelter ourselves from suffering, poverty, exclusion, unfairness, and injustice, Stevenson says that we can do so but only at our own peril. We cannot be fully human until we pay attention to suffering, poverty, exclusion, unfairness, and injustice. Could this possibly be true? Could what it means to be human be to use our creativity to enter into suffering rather than run from it? To use another Stevenson phrase, is it really true that in order to be fully human we must not only pay attention to “all the bright and dazzly things, but also to the dark and difficult things”? I think the answer is yes.
In order to be fully human we must pay attention to all the bright and dazzly things and the dark and difficult things because they exist each for the other. And we know this because the biblical story tells us this from beginning to end.
Let there be Light
God’s creative word exists to bring light from darkness. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The first couple of verses from the Bible invite us into hopeful anticipation for what God is doing. Although the earth is dark, formless, and void, the Spirit hovers. There is hope. Then God speaks his creative word. His first words bring light out of darkness from which he creates day and night. God continues his creative activity with light on the fourth day by providing sun, moon, and stars to govern the day and night, and separate light from darkness. The rhythm of evening and morning will be a defining characteristic of the creation story, providing a paradigm by which we live our daily routines and by which we can anticipate the movement from creation to new creation as a movement from darkness to light. The first creative act of God is to speak into the darkness, not recoil from it. This gives us hope because just as in the creation story each day begins with evening and moves toward morning, so too does the story of creation. In other words, the bright and dazzly things exist for the dark and difficult things.
And this is good . . . but it is only the beginning.
And Night Will Be No More
If we compare and contrast the beginning of the Bible with its end, we find a significant amount of common language between them, especially concerning the notion of light. Look at the table below.
| The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And there was evening and there was morning . . .
(Genesis 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31)
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse ofthe heavens
to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and seasons,
and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens
to give light upon the earth. . . . And God made the two great lights—
the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give
light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate
the light form the darkness.
| And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and its Lamp is the Lamb.
By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth
will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—
and there will be no night there.
They will see his face . . .
And night will be no more. They will need no light of
lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light,
and they will reign forever and ever.
This comparison and contrast reveals the movement in the story from Genesis to Revelation. The new creation is better than the old. Twice our text(s) in Revelation notes that God is the light of the new creation (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). In both instances, the author of Revelation notes two things:
The absence of night, and
The presence of faithful rulers
When all things are made new, the rhythm of evening to morning ceases because the glory of God and the Lamb have completely consumed the darkness of the original creation by becoming the light of the new creation. We will only experience the light of day because though we will have no sun, moon, or stars, God will never again hide his face. And night will be no more. This makes sense, but what of the presence of faithful human rulers? They bring their glory into the new creation, but how does this connect with God as the light of the new creation? The presence of faithful rulers is the culmination of the human story, particularly the story of God creating humanity in his image to rule over creation.
The Light of the World
John opens his resurrection narrative with “on the first day of the week” (John 20:1). John is the only Gospel writer to note this twice in the narrative (John 20:19). Given John’s focus on creation (his Gospel begins with “In the beginning”), we should think of this first day of a new week as the first day of a new creation. Other elements of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives draw out this theme as well. Immediately after Jesus’ words from the cross “It is finished,” John mentions that the Sabbath is about to begin (19:31). John’s is the only Gospel that records Jesus saying this, and it echoes the language of God finishing his work in creation on the sixth day and the beginning of the Sabbath on the seventh day. For John, Jesus’ work culminates on the cross, completes the Father’s work, and ushers in the Sabbath. The Gospel of John records that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark (John 20:1). This takes us back to the creation account again, where darkness was over the deep. Just as God spoke into the darkness on the first day and said, “Let there be light,” so now Jesus’ resurrection speaks new creation into existence as the light of the world emerges from and overcomes darkness (see John 1:1–4ff). Jesus is making all things new and he continues his mission through his people.
After Jesus is raised from the dead, he speaks to his disciples, saying, “Peace by with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21–22). In this act of new creation, Jesus is granting them new life by the power of the Spirit and sending them out on mission to continue his own mission. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in the disciples. This is John’s way of saying what Jesus told the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). God’s mission to make all things new will continue through the disciples. They now have hope that fulfilling the mission of God is possible as his faithful image bearers.
And so can we . . . if we take each other’s future glory seriously.
The Weight of Glory
There may be a collective sigh when you see a C.S. Lewis quote coming. I wish I could provide you something better, something more powerful, moving, loquaciously delightful, a rhetorical flourish so thought provoking that you sit back from the screen overwhelmed with the peculiar joy of having your intellectual appetite satisfied by the verbal meal I have prepared for you. But I can’t. So, here he is again, but I implore you to listen to his words in light of (pun intended) what we’ve been discussing. In light of Charleston and Orlando, Syria and South Sudan, and literal boat loads of refugees. In light of the dark and difficult things. Lewis calls us to dwell on the potential future glory of the image bearers we encounter every day. He writes:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility an carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you see it now, you would be strongly tempt to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations
Now here’s what I think he’s saying: If we really want to love our neighbor and bless our enemies, bless and not curse them; if we really want to marry our visions of creativity with visions of humanity, compassion and justice; if we really want to be light that exists to drive out darkness, then at all times let us hold before our eyes the vision of God’s image bearers bringing their glory into the new creation. Let us spend our every waking hour fighting for that vision to come true for the people we encounter every day. Dwell on the future glory of the image bearers around you and we might see the light of new creation, the glory of God, break into the present darkness.
Lewis later pleads with us to “conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics” in light of the overwhelming possibility of our neighbor’s potential glory. We may be able to envision and welcome our conduct in this light with regard to our friendships, loves, and even in our play. But politics? What if we even conducted all our dealings in politics with the future glory of another in mind? I suppose that it would require us to humble ourselves that others may grow from one degree of glory to another, or have our proud backs broken by the weight of another’s glory as God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Live a New Story
Standing between the dawn of Jesus’ resurrection and the day of our own, we find ourselves as characters within this story, actors within the play, charged with the mission of bringing about new creation for the sake of our loved ones, friends, co-workers, and enemies. Entrusted with such a great mission, we must not let darkness drive us to paralyzing fear or overwhelm us with the question, “Where do we begin?” When we place our faith in the God who called light out of darkness, raised Jesus from the dead, and is making all things new through us, the forecast in any circumstance is always hope—even in the midst of darkness such as Orlando. We are not in our current locations by accident, but by divine appointment—and so are those around us. We can move toward a faithful response when we realize that God has not asked us to go into every dark place, but to the dark places where we already are. Jesus, the light of the world, spent a majority of his time with twelve men because they were the ones God entrusted to him. It is very likely that we see the same 5–10 (maybe even 12?) people on a regular basis. We should consider these people as the ones to whom God has called us because they are the ones that God has entrusted to us. Be light to the world, but be a light to your part of the world.
If we take our calling seriously, we can consider the truth, taste the goodness, and see the beauty of Revelation 21–22 right now and invite others to live a new story. So, I encourage you to look around today while you walk down the street, share a meal with friends or family, sit in a meeting with co-workers, stand before a blank canvas in your studio, mourn the loss of a loved one, or suffer silently with something only you know about, and ask God where he is at work. Ask him for today’s mission and daily bread to fulfill the call of being a light to the world you inhabit day in and day out. Invite your brothers and sisters to do the same. And join him—right now, where you are. Take Courage. Move forward in hope. Live in the expectation that heaven is coming to earth. He is making all things new. You are a new creation and a day is coming when night will be no more.