Of light and darkness

Jesus Christ called himself the Light of the world. He warned that those who do not walk with him are walking in darkness.

This week a conversation between InsanityBytes and VioletWisp explored that idea of light and darkness. Violet pointed out that, “Christians imagine all sorts of things. They imagine that without the intervention and rules of their imaginary god, God, humans would plunge into a dark abyss of destructive, selfish behaviour, seeking momentary pleasure above all else.” Insanity replied that “people in general, in the absence of moral standards, are pretty much driven by pride, selfishness, and this idea that might makes right. We want what we want and we crave power.” Among the comments to Insanity’s post, she was repeatedly asked whether thousands of generations of people outside the Christian world “have all lived in an abysmal, joyless, wretched, civilisationless darkness?” Comments were made about “natural law” and its place among Christians and nonChristians.

Opponents of Christianity tend to attack the idea of Christianity as a source of morality in one of two ways. Sometimes they point out that the religions of the world all have about the same rules—pretty much every religion has the “Golden Rule,” that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Therefore Christianity can hardly claim exclusive ownership of morality. On the other hand, some beliefs about morality vary greatly from culture to culture. Therefore, they contend, there can be no consistent morality for all people, and Christians therefore cannot impose their moral rules upon others. Of course these two arguments cannot be used together to oppose Christianity, since they cancel out one another.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul discussed natural law. First, he stated that any person can observe the world and deduce the existence of a Creator, even though most religions worship some part of creation rather than its Creator. Next, he spoke of obedience to the Law, pointing out that even people who have never encountered the written Law, delivered at Mount Sinai, still have a version of the law within them. They have consciences which sometimes accuse them and sometimes excuse them. Paul wrote that those who have the written Law will be judged by the written Law, but those who have only the inner law of conscience will be judged by that inner law.

As a result of that inner law, conscience, or “natural law,” the world has known many well-behaved and moral Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Daoists, followers of indigenous religions, atheists, and agnostics. If the truth of Christianity were judged only by the behavior of its followers, Christianity would be no truer than other religions or than no religion at all. Jews and Christians and Muslims consult sacred writings for lists of rules; among other people, morality is taught in the family or in the community, and it is reinforced by conscience.

When dealing with light and darkness, though, the key question is neither, “do you know the rules?” nor “do you follow the rules?” Paul points out that all people—whether they have the written Law or only the law of conscience—have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He goes on to say that all people “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:23-24). The true light comes, not from the rules, but from the grace of God that is greater than all his rules.

IB correctly stated this important point in her post, saying, “Well, actually I believe that without God’s grace, without the sacrifice made for us on the cross, we really would be plunged into a dark abyss, both in this world and beyond. Both literally, metaphorically, and spiritually. It is not really the rules at all Violet, nor the law, but rather Grace.” The Light of the world is found in Christ’s rescue mission, not in his law-giving actions. Those who attempt to live without that grace and forgiveness are living without light, no matter how hard they try to obey the rules, and no matter how well they obey the rules.

Sad to say, even some Christians measure their life in the Light by how well they conform to the Law. They overlook the grace of God as they judge themselves and as they judge one another. Those outside the community of believers easily change the subject to individual rules, whether those that are consistent in all cultures or those that vary among different cultures. So long as we look only at the rules, we are still living in darkness. Only when we look to the Savior will we see the light.

If anyone is interested in viewing this topic from a different direction, I suggest you look at one of my posts from last year: God has two plans. J.

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