‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:4–5)
Most opposites are fairly evenly matched. Take any opposite you can think of. White doesn’t overcome black, nor does black overcome white, but the two blend together to make grey. Hollywood films endlessly show us the struggle between good and evil, and although the good usually wins, it’s mostly a pretty fair contest until the end. Wealth hasn’t conquered poverty, and poverty hasn’t destroyed wealth. We could go on: laughter and sorrow, war and peace, disease and medicine. When opposites clash, you cannot be certain which will prevail.
Light always wins
Light is different. No matter how many experiments you perform, you will never find darkness defeating light. If you flick the light switch in a dark room, the darkness disappears instantly. No amount of darkness, not even in pitch-black underground caves, can drown out the light generated by a small bulb in a head-torch. On a clear night, a candle on a hilltop can be seen forty-three miles away. Darkness prevails on earth when the sun is not shining on it, but as soon as it does, the darkness flees. When John says of Jesus, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,’ he is stating the obvious. Of course darkness hasn’t overcome light. It can’t.
So to say ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5) is to declare God’s invincibility. In whatever context the light picture is used – and it sometimes means life, sometimes righteousness, and sometimes truth – it speaks of an area where there is no contest. In principle, it is possible for grace to be overcome by legalism, the holy tainted by the common, love spoiled by hate. But it is impossible for the light of God to be drowned out, diluted, or in any way challenged by darkness, any more than shadows can defeat a halogen lamp. God’s light is invincible.
Take truth, for instance. Jesus, in John 3:19-20, uses light as a picture for the truth that he represents:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
Do you see what he is saying here? If people come into the light, their wickedness, which they thought was secret, will be revealed for what it is. Put another way, God’s light will always, always overcome their darkness – so they hate the light, and try to hide from it.
You see this all the time. President Nixon tried to keep Watergate secret because he knew that, once it was out, there was no hope for his administration; as soon as people found out what had really happened, further lies would be impossible. The adulterous husband knows that if his wife finds out, there is no turning back, so he lives in ever-increasing secrecy, ‘lest his works should be exposed’. Dictators do not allow freedom of the press. Once the light is on, the darkness cannot survive.
Elsewhere in John’s writings, the light metaphor refers to life (John 8:12), and sometimes righteousness (1 John 1:7), but the point is the same. God, who is light, cannot be conquered. He banishes darkness – whether it be secrecy, sin, or death – permanently. If you want to live a life of continued sin and rebellion against God, you need to make sure you hide from him, because your darkness will not be able to withstand his glorious light. On the other hand, if you want life that cannot be overcome even by death, life in all its fullness, then the light of the world is exactly what you need:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25–26)
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54). As light conquers darkness, the resurrection life of Jesus conquers the tomb. Once the life and light of God have broken out in someone, there is nothing Satan himself can do to reinstate the rule and reign of death and darkness.
Falsehood and truth, death and resurrection life, are not evenly matched, nowhere near. When the light appears, the darkness is sent packing forever. This is why an incredibly unlikely claim made by 120 uneducated Jewish people has spread throughout the world (Acts 1:15). It is why the gospel thrives most when it is suppressed. It is also why suggestions that the church will fade are so foolish. God is glorious, permanent, and invincible light. And when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it.
This article is an extract from Andrew Wilson’s book, ‘Incomparable’ and is used with kind permission from 10Publishing.