November 2015

Walk while you h ave the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you

[John 12.35 NRSV]


This is an apt Saying in the context of shorter days and longer nights as well as for the season of Advent.

Near the Shrine of th e Book in Jerusalem, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, there is a wall. Just a wall. One side of it is white, the other side is black. It is a reminder of the religious community, the Essenes, who were responsible for the Scrolls. In the time of Jesus they lived apart from society in their monastery by the Dead Sea. Their outlook was dualist: in other words, they thought in terms of black and white, light and darkness, representing the forces of good and evi l in conflict.

Jesus knew about the Essenes and their teaching: some people think he may have joined them for a time, but that is speculation. Saint John obvious ly knew about them and quite deliberately incorporated elements of their teaching in his gospel, as our Saying clearly shows.

Dualist ideas permeate religious th inking in every culture including our own. On the practical level it interprets our common experience of good and evil. Human folklore and religious teachi ng make frequent use of the images of conflict and battle between right and wrong, whether in Harry Potter-type literature or in hymns such as "Fight the good fight" (not to mention the last book in the Bible).

However, authentic Christianity is not dualist. Our Saying reminds us that we may, as believers in Jesu s, walk in the light of Christ. And certainly, when we choose to do so, we have a better chance of coping with the onset of darkness in the shape of afflic tion and fear, and are better equipped to deal with the darker side of our own inner nature. But we should constantly recall the words of the author of Psa lm 139: "The darkness and light are both alike to thee" (v.12). Think also of the assuring words of Jesus. After reminding us that we shall experience tr ibulation in the world, he goes on to say: "But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John  16.33). The words echo John's prologue in the f irst chapter: "The light (of Christ) shines on in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it" (v. 5 JB).