Some thoughts on 1 John 1:5-10.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
I read earlier this week an essay by Stanley Hauerwas on Augustine’s theology of evil. Augustine argued that evil does not exist, as such. Evil is merely an absence of or deprivation of what is good, that is to say God. This may not be the point John is trying to make, but the analysis seems apt.
God is light. Darkness — as such — does not exist. It is only the absence of light. Evil does not exist. It is only the absence of good.
Such thinking makes me wonder if other attributes we connect with God might be thought of in the same way.
Does hate exist, or is it only the absence of love?
Is injustice — as the name implies — merely an absence of justice?
As I consider these questions, I also find my mind turning to the depravity of human nature. It becomes much less of a hard doctrine if we understand that depravity — or darkness — simply means falling short of the total goodness of God. We are creatures of light and shadow. We walk in the twilight and even in darkness.
If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;
When we walk in darkness we — literally — are outside the fellowship of God. Darkness is the absence of God, who is all light. So to walk in darkness is to walk apart from God. To claim otherwise is to speak an untruth.
It would be as untrue as claiming to be walking on Mars while crossing our front lawn.
but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,
As in the opening verses of the chapter, John here brings us back to the conditions that make our fellowship possible. Our communion is a communion of light and in the light. It exists only so long as we all walk in the light of God. We might keep in contact with one another in a worldly way once fellowship is broken, but we can only be in communion with each other to the extent that we both walk in the light of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes something similar in his book Life Together. He argues that our fellowship with one another exists only via Jesus Christ. You and I each are in fellowship with Christ and therefore — and only therefore — we might have fellowship with each other.
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we walk in the light, two things happen. We have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin. Doesn’t that mean that if we walk in darkness that not only do we lose communion with one another but we also remain stained by sin?
There is a fountain of forgiveness for you and for me, but it stands in the place of light. Easter comes at dawn.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
We are creatures of darkness — and light. We fall short of the glory of God. To deny that simple truth is to fool ourselves.
The only proper response to the truth of who we are is confession. As someone told me once, the word “confession” simply means “to acknowledge.” It is to state what is true. It is to stand in the light and acknowledge our darkness.
If we do this, John tells us, our God will forgive. He will replace shadows with sunlight. He will bless our brokenness.
To speak what is not true, however, to claim that we are creatures of pure light already is the deepest lie. It is a lie not just against God but to ourselves. It is the lie that betrays us to try in vain to burn with a brightness that belongs only to God. We are like the cold stones hurtling through space that believe the sunlight they reflect comes from their own hard, dusty face.
The word, the life, the Son is not in us.