A Biblical Theology of Light: Creation

lightGenesis 1 is pretty unscientific in its description of the origin of light. God spoke and it came into being. Whatever you think about the origins of the universe we see something clearly distinct in the biblical presentation than in the scientific community. In creation we see that light is intimately connected to the very person of God.

Light is a powerful force. Throughout the history of civilization peoples have worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. They have viewed these luminaries as gods themselves and bowed before them. They have personified them and used them as symbols of worship. But the Biblical writers, in their discussion of the origins of light, tell us light serves to point us back to the Creator himself. One God, Yahweh, is the maker of light and it is to him that light directs us. G.L. Borchert keenly observes this when he writes:

Unlike in scientific analyses, in the phenomenological description of creation in Genesis 1 light is called forth by god (Gen. 1:3-4) prior to the establishment of the luminaries (1:14-18). Thus, for the inspired writers, light is tied inseparably to the powerful presence and activity of God as the ultimate source of the first creation. Moreover, at a time when the sun, moon, and stars were worshipped as deities, the Bible rejects such worship and represents light and the luminaries as part of creation. (“Light” in The Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 645).

The Bible submits the luminaries in the sky to the true light himself: God, the creator of all things.

We see this theme carried on throughout the rest of Scripture. God, in leading his people out of bondage to Egypt and through the wilderness, manifests His presence in a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21). This theophany points us again to the intimate relationship between God and light. Whether there is sun, moon, and stars in the sky or not light will shine in the presence and activity of God almighty. The same idea can be found in the book of Revelation, where read that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no sun, but there will be light. We read:

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Rev. 22:5)

How can this be so? It can be so because God is light (1 John 1:5). The creation of light, indeed the unfolding narrative of Scripture reveals that light is a pointer to God almighty.

We don’t worship the sun and moon and stars as much in modern western culture as perhaps we once did. But we still view light detached from God. This is particularly true as we think of it in terms of a symbol. Light signals the presence of illuminating sources. As we think about light, then, we are thinking about the power to see, to observe, to discern our surroundings. In symbolic language we use light to discuss the power to apprehend and understand. It is this use of light that we still detach from God. Light as the illumination of reality, the revelation of truth is something we separate from the personal presence and activity of God. Light is what we find through our rational faculties, through our mystical activities, through our scientific discoveries. Or so we think. We don’t need God to see and apprehend, we tell ourselves. The Scriptures, however, tell us different story. The Scriptures tell us that there is no light apart from God. Even the sun, moon, and stars are subservient to their Creator. Light existed before they did. Light is a pointer to Yahweh. Light is a pointer to His presence in our world, and the reality of darkness is a reminder of our need for His presence in greater amount. God is light, and without Him there is only darkness.

This is particularly true as we think about the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is part of this creation story. The apostle John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Before God speaks light into the darkness we read of the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the darkness. So Genesis 1 reads:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:1-2)

Then God speaks, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), and how does this light come into existence. Through the Word of God. That is, through the person of Jesus Christ in whom there is light. The creation of light is pointing us, even at this moment, to the reality of the gospel. To the life which is the light of men; the light which darkness cannot overcome! A Biblical theology of light points us not simply to God, but to the gospel. Even at creation we are reminded, God is light and this light is the person of Jesus Christ.

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