Other churches' signs that I've seen--not so much.
"It wasn't the Apple, it was the Pair"I'll stop, I promise. But I could go on. I've got about 365 of 'em. (Someone 'thoughtfully' bought me a desktop day calendar featuring a glib little quote for every day of the year. Awww....)
"Patience is a virtue with a lot of wait"
Usually these signs are not much more than annoying groaners such as I'm used to hearing from several of my friends anyway (I even jokingly wrote a paper in my Pastoral Theology class arguing that such "punning" was a sure sign of the Pastor-Teacher gift in Ephesians 4:11). But every so often, I see a sign that really bothers me--because the sign says something illogical, and sometimes even contrary to the Christian faith.
Such was the case of the sign out front of the Baptist church around the corner from my house. To their credit, they try to change the sign once a week (though summer got a little slow), and more, they try to find a quote that fits with the sermon subject for the following Sunday. On the left half of the sign, they have worship time details, and the Sermon Title. On the right half of the sign, they have a quote that perhaps acts as a summation of the sermon--though in this particular case, I hope not--or else an announcement of some special event.
Well, this past week, this church has announced that the pastor will be giving a sermon entitled "Shine." Accompanying this one-word title is the quote that's got me all buggered up, and wondering just what they're teaching at this Baptist church:
"In order for the light to shine, the darkness must be present."There's so much to take issue with in this dualistic statement that it made my head spin (and actually kept me up at night!), but fear not, true believer. I'll try to address it all.
Now, at first glance, I assume that the pastor is going to be addressing his congregation regarding being light to the world, and letting our light so shine before men that they would see our good works and glorify God in Heaven. He perhaps is encouraging his congregation to live the good life even as the darkness around us seems to deepen, and so he is trying to inspire them with the notion that their bright lights will shine even more noticeably because the darkness is so dark. And those are good thoughts, to be sure. However, the statement, as it stands, takes those thoughts a step or two further.
First of all, it declares that darkness is, in fact, something. It claims that darkness has an objective reality of its own, that is in conflict with the light, and yet, not entirely in conflict, but, like Yin and Yang, it is symbiotic with the light--each causing the other to exist. After all, what else can a statement mean that says "In order for the light to shine the darkness must be present"?
So our first problem seems to be with our definition of darkness, and the description of it as present, and as necessary. Darkness, both scientifically and philosophically, is not a "thing" possessing its own substance or essence. Rather, it is only something which is not. Darkness is the absence of light. It is the quality of lightlessness. It is not a substance, but the privation of a substance. That is our first problem, and, understanding it, I hope that all our other problems are made clear.
The second problem, then, flowing directly from the first, is apparently an equally unsatisfactory definition of Light. To say that the light can only shine if it is dark is self-contradictory. If darkness is the privation of light, then if there is darkness, it means, quite literally, that the light isn't as bright as it could be! Thus, the statement on this church sign seems to want us to believe that light, which, by definition, shines, can only do what it must do by its very essence, if it is not doing what it does to its fullest capacity. Or, put another way, light only shines when it's not really shining all that well.
Light is substance. It can be measured and calculated. Apparently, science tells us, it is composed of subatomic particles, called photons, that travel at a determined speed in a vacuum (186,000 miles per second, if my high school science hasn't failed me), but that these photons can be slowed down, or change their course, when they are interfered with by various atmospheres and objects. On the other hand, there is no "speed of darkness". Darkness is nothing. It is simply the state of things when there aren't any photons whizzing around.
Thus, on a purely physical, scientific, academic level, we find that the statement on this church's sign makes utterly no sense. That, in my mind, is bad enough. But when the statement is applied to theology, as one might expect it to be in a sermon, suddenly things go from bad to worse--from illogical nightlights to manichean dualism. That is, biblically, Light is synonymous with Good. And more, it is often used as a descriptor of God Himself. "All that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light..." (James 1:17). Thus, if light can only shine when the darkness is present, as X Baptist Church would have you believe, then God, it seems, cannot be God unless there is darkness present. I suppose that leaves one of two conclusions: Either darkness is fundamental to God's make-up--that is, privation--imperfection--belongs to God as something proper to Himself; or this privation is itself actually a tangible essence in symbiotic competition with God: a dark god, an evil god, co-existing with the God of Light. Those seem to be the two options according to the Sign.
As to the first option, that darkness is itself part of who God is, the passage I quoted from James continues: "...the Father of all light; with Him there is no such thing as an alteration, no shadow caused by change." Or, to be even more explicitly clear, St. John writes in his first Epistle, "God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all" (1 John 1:5). So we see quite clearly that there is no darkness in God. Indeed, for the One who is Perfect, there can be no privation.
So what of the second option, that the darkness exists as a separate, necessary corollary to God? We must reason, after all, that if God is light, and that light needs darkness in order to shine--and light that doesn't shine is not light--then God needs darkness in order to be God. But how can God need anything? Once again, that would indicate some privation in God. Furthermore, it again indicates that darkness is more than simply a privation, but a substance or essence unto itself--and one that is co-eternal to God, and which God needs in some way. An infintite being with a need, must therefore have an infinite need, and so the darkness must be as infinite as God. Therefore, we would have to postulate that some dark god is necessary for God, as is often believed in many pagan religions, most notably, as I said above, in the Manichean religion of the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
However, as St. Thomas point out in his Summa, there can only be one infinite being, since the infinity of its being would necessarily end where the other infinite being's began, thus making neither one infinite, since each has an end and a beginning. Moreover, Scripture affirms that "The Lord your God is One God" (Deut. 6:5), and, as we said, darkness is not something, but nothing. Sure wish that more people would read Aquinas, and stop recycling old errors.
God does not need anything in order to be God, and light does not need darkness in order to shine. Ultimately, the Light will eradicate the darkness once and for all. On that day, we will not cease to exist in some sort of nihilistic nirvana, but will forever shine like the Son, realising fully who we were meant to be as partakers of His glory!