1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
In Buddhist philosophy, everything in this world is conditioned. It is more than Newton’s third law, and far more complex than recognizing that our actions have consequences. Put simply, everything is dependent on something else. I exist because my parents begat, and they because of theirs, and so on. You have money because you have a job because you have an education because the tax system provided it because… We breathe because we have oxygen, and the trees create oxygen from our carbon dioxide.
As Christians, we believe in an all powerful, all knowing, all good creator God, but such a statement raises questions about the things we see in creation that we detest. If there is pollution, murder, thievery, backbiting, adultery, and what have you, did God create those as well? If God created everything, that must mean that God created evil.
Some people attempt to rationalize this conclusion as Confucius or a Taoist would, by stating that good is found in balance and it is in God’s perfect balance that harmony is most fully realized. That we should strive for balance rather than “complete good,” for in striving for the latter we will upset our natures and cause evil. This concept of balance is one I used to believe quite fervently, even until long after I became Christian. There is clearly evil in humanity, so we should accept it and just try to reign it in. Nothing more can be accomplished.
Plato’s Republic repudiates this idea, however, as he seeks to define Good. True, pure, complete Good would have no evil in it, for then it would defy the definition of Good. Just as the perfect ruler would be just, generous, kind, and gracious, a being of perfect Good would have no evil in it. As I mulled over this idea, it was like a bowstring snapped into place for me. To put it another way, it was like I had finally found the square hole for the square peg, which clicked home with quiet satisfaction.
No, God did not create evil, nor is evil found in God, as John writes in verse five. We have followed a logical progression of 1) God Created Everything, 2) There is Evil, 3) God Created Evil, but our logic is flawed. We have a very limited view of “everything” and a rather stilted definition of “created.”
In truth, there is no darkness in God, so what is darkness? I read an anecdote ((Yes, the original rumour of this being by Einstein is false, but that makes the anecdote no less helpful.)) recently that I think best makes this point. Though I first read this in a note on Facebook, I will link to it on another page by way of accreditation and paste the text here.
Does evil exist?
The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”
“God created everything? The professor asked.
“Yes sir”, the student replied.
The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil.” The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?”
“Of course,” replied the professor.
The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”
“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.
The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”
The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”
The professor responded, “Of course it does.”
The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”
Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”
Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course, as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”
To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
The problem is that so many of us are walking in darkness, and because of that same darkness, we can see nothing. It is a simplistic, almost laughable statement, but it is likewise important to note that those who are in darkness can not find their way. This is one of the justifications for missions work and evangelism, where we must take the light of Jesus into the world to help people find God.
Gifted by the Holy Spirit with God’s laws and a conscience, we can have a relatively good idea of whether we are currently walking in darkness or not. Before I was Christian, I was very sure of myself, confident in all my ways. I knew that I was right and my chosen path was correct… and yet, “knew” is perhaps too strong a word. There was always this nagging doubt, and I would hear myself whisper, “But if I am wrong, I am surely going to hell.” I rationalized and justified my actions, feeling that though they might condemn me to hell, I knew I had helped at least one person and so my life, or my self-styled sacrifice, was worthwhile. I comforted myself in the darkness by trying to be my own light.
But I wasn’t helping people on God’s terms or in His way; if I had been things would have been far better. Moreover, I have not the capability to be the light in the darkness, or the lamp on the path, as Jesus is. None of us do. We might pretend, but we’re just flailing around in the dark, lying to ourselves and everyone else.
The wonderful promise of these verses is what we find in the light. I have written elsewhere that our generation (as I imagine all generations have, to a greater or lesser extent) is seeking community and fellowship with one another. When we walk in the light, we find that community and are joined in fellowship with the Church. What’s more, we are forgiven and come under the sanctification of the blood of Christ. Adopted into God’s family, we are assured of an eternity with Him.
I was once given the image that humans are walking in darkness because we all live with sin, but what’s important is the direction we are walking. If we are walking towards God, towards the light, it does not matter where we are on the path. We are forgiven and with him, no matter our circumstances, because we are heading the right direction. However, if we are ever standing still, that is just as bad as walking away from God. We’re either going towards him or we’re falling away.
As I reflect on 1 John 1:5-7, I feel that this image does God’s forgiveness an injustice. If we are truly in the light, having been chosen by God and duly accepted his grace, and if we are in fellowship with each other and God, we are no longer walking in darkness towards a distant light. No, God’s light is all around us, inundating and filling us, and we can be sure in the blood of Jesus and the purification of sin. The Word of God was but a simple ray of light, but it broke into a world of darkness and illuminated it. We have been found.