“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them[i].”
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Dickens is pontificating upon the complexities of human interaction and relationship. A Gordian knot that I am painfully familiar with. I wrestle constantly with how I am supposed to interact with the people I encounter when I leave the comfort of my home. Luckily, in his infinite grace, God blessed humanity with Jesus’ infamous Sermon on the Mount, which provides a bit of guidance on the matter of interacting with others.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine[ii].”
Living as the “Light of the World” is a tall order, complicated by the fact that it is rarely presented outside an intellectual context. Being “Light” means more than simply living a virtuous life. The emphasis most clergy place on this passage is morality, but Jesus is speaking about more than just behavior regulation. The unspoken context in this passage makes Jesus’ words all the more terrifying.
Do you know why pirates wore eye patches? Patches were worn to cover the sockets of missing eyes, surely, but they were also used to establish permanent night vision. By keeping one eye covered at all times, a pirate was able to move between a well lit area of a ship to a poorly lit area seamlessly. Keeping one eye covered ensured that a pirate would be able to see in any light, giving him the advantage over those whose eyes were unadjusted.
So what do pirates have to do with Charles Dickens and Jesus? Simply this: We live in a cimmerian world. Being the sort of illumination Christ calls his followers towards, requires venturing into the pitch darkness. Walking among those trapped in a lurid existence requires a sort of ambidextrous eyesight. To navigate in the darkness of life’s high seas, Christ’s light bearers need to have one eye attuned to the darkness, and one eye focused on the light.
In an effort to help people understand Jesus’ words, Evangelical Christianity has diluted Jesus’ original metaphor. It is a misappropriation to equate Jesus’ “city on a hill” with a lighthouse. A lighthouse is a terrible metaphor for the instruction to “be a light unto the world.” Lighthouses don’t move, and therein lays the problem with such an analogy. It’s easy to remain stationary and spout platitudes about being a “light in the world.” It’s another matter entirely to venture out into the shadows as a torch.
Christians cannot afford to be afraid of the dark. Darkness surrounds us all and is within us all. Every candle casts a shadow. We have a mandate to operate in the darker portions of this life, for “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners[iii].” What use is a candle in the sun?
Being afraid of the dark is a common childhood fear, which only dissipates when a child comes to understand that the darkness poses no real threat. The Gospel is the message that Jesus conquered the darkness.
Therefore, allow this to resonate through your eyes, into your brain, and into your soul:
The darkness is innoxious.
So, get up! Put on an eye patch, and head out into the unlit unknown. Share the light of your life, your relationship and hope in Jesus with everyone you come into contact with. Allow other believers to illuminate the darker sections of your soul with grace filled accountability that you might join hands and walk forward. We are a search party, sent into the night to find the lost and the blind.