A general Introduction to Light as a metaphor in the religions of the world.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Before we start to delve into the depths of the above verses let us first have a general discussion of light.

The world of light until the 19th century is not the same world we live in today.  We take it for granted that electricity keeps the lights running and this is generally clean.  I remember the time as a student teacher we had a trip to the British Museum, and I held a clay oil lamp in my hand that was thousands of years old.  It was very smooth, light and beautiful to look at. So then where there was light, there would have been smoke and the smell of burning.  Most ancient cities were set on a hill or a tell and the surrounding country sides would have had small villages.  It would be interesting to envisage coming up to one of these cities at midnight.  Even though the houses would have had oil lamps burning, the cities at night-time would have really stood out. Jerusalem sits on a hill, and I think it is quite possible that Jesus may have used it as an object lesson for his hearers from where he preached. Matthew says it was a mountain, but Luke says:

“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, Luke 6:17”

What about how light is used as a symbol generally?

Light is one of the most powerful motifs in the religions.  Light is a universal phenomenon that touches all of life on this earth. It is no wonder that all the religions use light as a metaphor for aspects of divine realities.  At the level of God as Creator there can be real discussion among the religions.  Obviously when it comes to the particulars of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and other religions we go are separate ways.  Every religion has a right to their own belief systems.  Liberal theology which tries to talk about religion ‘evolving’ have made a categorical mistake and it is disrespectful to all religions because it does not respect their exclusivity.  The exclusivity comes from the concept of the Divine Infinite breaking into our space and time.  As a devoted follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are blessed to have the Bible, the word of God which reveals the True Word (Logos) of God to us.  Let us hold onto our exclusivity but still love our neighbour (which we may or may not agree with).  The following are quotes from World Scripture; A comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts;  pages 380 through to 383:

In the following section I have taken some passages that were prepared by world experts on the religions:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Judaism and Christianity” Psalm 119.105

“The truth has come, and falsehood has vanished away. Surely falsehood is ever certain to vanish”

Islam Quran 17.85

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.

The parable of His Light

is as if there were a Niche,

and within it a Lamp;

the Lamp enclosed in Glass:

The Glass as it were a brilliant star:

Lit from a blessed Tree, _

an olive neither of the East nor of the West,

whose oil is well—nigh luminous,

though fire scarce touched it.

Light upon Light!

God guides whom He will to His Light:

God sets forth parables for men, and God

knows all things.”

Islam. Qur’an 24.35

“Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars nor the lightning—nor, verily, fire kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shines; everything shines”

Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 5.15

“It is wonderful, Lord! It is as if, Lord, one might set upright that which had been upturned, or might reveal what was hidden, or might point out the path to one who had gone astray or might bring an oil lamp into the darkness so that those with eyes might see material shapes.”

Buddhism. Udana. 49

“The holy Preceptor by the Word lighted a lamp;

Thereby was shattered darkness of the temple of the self,

And the unique chamber of jewels thrown open.

Wonderstruck were we in extreme on beholding it—

Its greatness beyond expression.”

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Bilaval, M5, p. 821

“The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. 36 If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.” Luke 11:34-36

“The Atman is the light:

The light is covered by darkness:

This darkness is delusion:

That is why we dream.

When the light of Atman

Drives out our darkness

That light shines forth from us,

A sun in splendour,

The revealed Brahman”

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 5.15-16 (Note: Brahman ins the ‘Unknowable’ e.g.  God)

The candidate obtains this mystical light

after long hours of waiting, sitting on a bend}

in his hut and invoking the spirits. When he

experiences it for the first time, it is as if the

house in which he is suddenly rises, he sees far

ahead of him, through mountains, exactly as if

the earth were one great plain, and his eyes

could reach to the end of the earth. Nothing is

hidden from him any longer; not only can he

see things far, far away, but he can also discover

souls, stolen souls, which are either kept concealed in far, strange lands or have been taken

up or down to the Land of the Dead;

Native American Religions.

Iglulik Eskimo Shaman Initiation

“Those who believe will stand alongside [the Prophet], their light streaming on ahead of them and to their right. They will say, “Our Lord, perfect our light for us, and forgive us!”

Islam. Qur’an 66.8

Reflection

Jesus is the True light of the World and all who come to him will be saved:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

Then in Matthews Gospel he says the disciple are the ‘Light of the world’. 

 “You are the light of the world…”; Matthew 5:14

Let us then ‘walk in the light’ by Faith in Christ following our Light House.  The One who is our compass into everlasting life.  The True Light has broken into our space and time.  Jesus our Lighthouse lived a holy life, died on a cross and was resurrected, giving us the same hope of eternal life; as disciples we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit who will guide our ship through the many storms of life and to the eternal safe harbour. All people no matter what background, no matter what religion or no religion are invited to follow Christ:

“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” Romans 10:9-13; NASB from Olive Tree Bible Software.

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