We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Bookends of Faith

Two verses in the Book of I John provide us with what might be called the "bookends of faith."  I John 1:5 gives one of the most succinct descriptions of God found in scripture: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all." (NRSV)  Our faith is in the One Who Is Light.  Whenever we are in the presence of The Light, we are in God's presence, and our search for God is a search for The Light.  Violence is dark, peace is Light.  Lust is dark, love is Light.

Hold that thought.

I John ends in 5:21 with a charge, which is the other bookend of our faith: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (NRSV)  An idol is anything that we put in place of God, be it a stone idol, a set of doctrines, or a search for success.  The author of I John warned his readers, that is, to beware of anything within themselves that would prevent them from "abiding in God" (I John 2:28).  Beware of our deeply planted human inclination to turn anything holy into something we own and have control over—and to turn those things what we desire into our vision of holiness.  The greatest danger to our abiding in The Light, that is, is our own tendency to want to own, control it, and have it be what we want it to be.

We are called upon to fill in the blank between 1:5 and 5:21, that is to discover what it means to abide in The Light, which has a good deal to do with loving one another (4:7).  Indeed, Love along with Light is another metaphor for God.  So: God is The Light.  God is Love. Abide in The Light.  Love one another.  And don't turn any of this into a process that we think we own and control.  At the end of the day, faith in God, who is Light and Love, is not something we have so much as something that has us.  And that's tough, because we don't like to be had.  We just plain don't, which is why 5:21 may be the most important single verse in the whole Book of I John.