The Significance of Light and Dark in the Fourth Gospel
During my undergraduate studies I was asked to contribute an article to a periodical looking at alternative interpretations of the Gospels through the eyes of students. Below is a sample of my contribution.
Dualism, in the context of opposing forces within a religious framework, is something that has existed in almost all religions since the times of Zoroaster. Ancient Egypt held the dualistic cycles of Horus and Set within the framework of Nuit as the centre of their faith whereas the Druids of Anglesey thousands of miles away in Britain used the triune aspect of each of their deities to symbolise the light, dark and neutral nature of their deities. Closer to the home of Christianity, the Roman Empire and its spread of the Fulgur Divorum (the thunderbolts of the Gods) would undoubtedly have had an impact on Jewish life in Israel. The empires insistence on social observance of sacred days would have ensured that people at least had an understanding of their practices, even if they did not believe them. It is doubtful that the full influence of dualism as seen in other religions will ever be truly quantified in relation to developing Christianity but with that in mind there are plenty of references in both the old and new testament to light and dark and it is there that analysis will take place.
Given the nature of the prologue of Johns Gospel it is clear from the outset that this particular Gospel will be looking closely at the more macrocosmic interpretations of the teachings of Jesus. This is evident in its stark contrast to the synoptic Gospels whose focus is on a horizontal form of dualism, contrasting the light and dark between the age we are in and the age that is to fall upon us in the future, the kingdom that is to come. From the Pauline use it is known that ‘this world’ can be the equivalent of ‘this age’ yet in Johns Gospel this division is more vertical, dividing this world from the world above, this world of darkness and the world of light above us. It is important to note here that an intrinsic difference between John and the other gospels is that John purports to be describing ‘how Jesus acted and talked about himself’ which serves to give his statements more impact and credulity compared to the more personal observational accounts of the synoptic Gospels.
When looking at our world as the world below, the world in darkness we see evidence in the fourth Gospel of how we are situated in this grand design. As Ashton states, ‘for after all, God created darkness as well as light’, a statement which shows us that the dualism as presented in the Gospel is not absolute, God created our world of darkness, of sin as well as the light – there is no absolute power in opposition. This in itself is a distinguishing factor from many other religions whose evil ‘other’ is of comparable power with the light. So what is the significance of the absolute power of God with no comparable opposite? It is a question that is best answered through an analysis of Satan in relation to the darkness for it is an area often misunderstood and misinterpreted.
The arrival of Jesus into the world was the arrival of the light that would allow people to walk out of the darkness, a world full of darkness as depicted in the Old Testament. When Jesus arrived the darkness of our world could not overcome him but we must be sure just what this darkness is, is Satan the darkness or is it something else? The world is seen to be in the grip of an evil ruler, the devil, but it is not the ruler of the world who is referred to in the prologue but the world itself. Satan is not the darkness but the ruler of the darkness, the ruler of the world. We must therefore discover what the darkness is through understanding what it is not. Jesus is the light and he brings the light into the world, he brings the knowledge of God and his kingdom, he brings faith, belief. It stands to reason then that to live out of the light, to live in darkness, is to live outside belief. The darkness is unbelief, a denial of Gods kingdom and a way of life outside the truth of light. Job depicted people who lived this way and it is important to note than John clearly links the light with truth ergo the darkness being of lies.