God Is Light
by Rev. Suzanne Nichols, JD, MTS
“Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
Melt me, Mold me, Fill me, Use me,
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.”
How does my image of God affect the light that I see and transmit?
Rev. Suzanne Nichols
When I was a child I learned in a concrete way. I had an image of God that was not just personal, but a person. Jesus was my friend. Yet there was also an image of a judgmental male God, an old white man with a beard, sitting on a throne ready to judge me for all the naughty things I had done.
I’ve just re-read the first five books of the Bible, the Torah—this time in the version known as The Message—and the source of that image is plain to see. Even the modern language version of these books cannot change the Hebrew Bible’s image of the judgmental warrior God.
And yet: there is also the image of God as Light.
The Hindus have wonderfully colorful, varied images of God. I was taught that Hindus were idol worshipers of many gods, but I learned through my CHI studies—including my experience at a Hindu temple—that they believe God is in everything, including ourselves. They believe in one God, while recognizing that there are many views and vantage points of that one God.
Among the many images of the divine at the Hindu temple, the one that most spoke to me was the fire pit representing the Light of God. Similarly, although the warrior God images from the Hebrew Bible do not speak to me, that burning bush really does.
I can imagine God best when I think of light. The Hebrew Bible has other images of God, beyond the burning bush, that bring me light. The first thing to be created was light, so light is the symbol of creation, as recorded in Genesis 1:3:
“Then God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good.”
God led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years with a pillar of light by night, so light represents God’s guidance.
“The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day,
to lead them along the way,
and in a pillar of fire by night,
to give them light.”
“Arise shine for thy light has come” is the beginning of the 60th chapter of Isaiah. This was the watchword for the girls’ mission organization that was so fundamental to my life as a girl and teen in the Baptist Church. Here, light represents the journey or ministry of my life.
The Psalms are full of light references. Psalm 18:28 says:
“You light my lamp;
The LORD my God illumines my darkness.”
Psalm 27:1 says:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?”
And Psalm 119:105 says:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.”
In the New Testament, Jesus is said to be the light of the world. In 1 John 1:7 we read:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have community one with another.”
So, there are many light symbols for God to draw upon within scripture. How does this image of light help us on the spiritual path?
For me, I first needed to learn that a personal God does not have to be human in form or nature. This was a great step for me. “Personal” and “person” had been the same thing for me for many years. Now I have a more abstract image of God, but a presence remains that is personal and close to me.
Second, looking at God as Light, I could see that God is sending light to everyone on the earth. This Light that is God shines on all, just as our sun shines on each and every one of us on this planet. God is Light, and this Light is for everyone. So I have no need and no right to judge how others live or how they imagine God.
Third, my visual images of God are now expanded. I feel liberated and opened by images of light. I can also see that others need specific images of God. I do not judge the usefulness of such images in worship, nor their validity for that person in that culture and time… even if someone needs a judgmental, white old male God for their own spiritual path. Although that is not the image I need now, it was part of my core belief structure for many years.
As my project for a Religion in Art class at Pacific School of Religion, I created three artistic renderings of my image of the divine. The process of making these images, and then of explaining and using them, was extremely useful. I keep these three images in my office to remind me that I can create, and that the Light of God is ever-present.
I believe the light of God is in others, and not just in other Christians. I can see the light of God in fire images of the Hindus. Muslims use absolutely no physical images of God in their worship, and yet I find light in their lives, message and even in their buildings. I share a relationship to, and a scripture with, Judaism, and I delight in its light images for God.
And so, as we light this candle:
May you see Light.
May you be Light this week.
Let others see the Living God in you.
Adapted from a sermon presented at Church of the Open Arms, Oklahoma City, on February 15, 2009.
Hymn is from The Baptist Hymnal, Convention Press, Nashville TN, 1956, “Spirit of the Living God,” #523.