So I offered a post just a few days ago bringing up parts of the Bible that trouble me, but the post hardly got any traffic. In fact the blog in general seems to be getting less visits in recent days. But I did finally get into a rich conversation with one reader – at least I had the opportunity to explore my thoughts further with a real person. Perhaps someone else will yet find the post and help that conversation blossom again.
That said, I am dealing with still another passage of Scripture that seems to challenge me to the core. In fact, if my read on it is anywhere near the mark, it is deeply challenging to my whole culture – even Christian culture – at depths I find practically NO ONE discussing. (That alone gives me cause to think I might really be off base, BUT I already suspect my church and the broader culture of collusion and conspiracy to throw the Gospel off track – meaning I might be right after all.)
However, this part of that Bible that troubles me is a recent development in my life and worldview. Up until recently, I did not make the connection between this text and my world – not like this.
What is this passage (you ask)? What does it say???
(So glad you did ask….)
I find the concept in other passages too (at least doing business with other passages), but it seems most succinctly laid out in John 3:19-21. Jesus has just been approached by a non-committal, yet curious, Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus AT NIGHT (under cover of darkness) to confess that he and the other leading Jews know that Jesus comes from God and is empowered by God to work his signs. This confession by night elicits a response from Jesus about rebirth.
The passage as a whole, over the course of my life’s experience, has always provided us a chance to talk about baptism, and that is appropriate enough, I think. However the discussion Jesus has with Nicodemus does not end there; it ends with 3:19-21, and thus seems to bookend the passage with an examination of light and darkness opposite Nicodemus’s approach to Jesus by night. Perhaps our discussion of baptism is meant to be filled out with this discussion of Light and darkness. Or maybe rebirth points to this.
Here is the quote:
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
It’s a judgment passage. Jesus is defining judgment and describing it. The immediate context here is that of Nicodemus coming by night to confess in the darkness. He does not, nor does his Pharisee friends, come to the Light for fear that his/their deeds will be exposed. He/they do not love the Light, but rather the darkness because their deeds are evil. This is John’s immediate context, and it reveals things about Nicodemus and his friends; it characterizes Jesus vis-à-vis Jewish leaders; thus it informs all the talk about baptism and rebirth too.
We know that Jesus will be crucified and they will not. We know that Nicodemus’s colleagues will manipulate empire to have Jesus crucified and will do it with their conniving behind closed doors, but Jesus will do his image bearing in the Light of day!
Thus there is a broader context still within John’s Gospel, and, with the word study, we find it hinted at in 1:4 where John tells us that in Jesus the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overpower it. Then, even though the terminology about “light” is dropped part way through, we find in 1:9-11 that Jesus (seemingly the embodiment of Light) comes into the world to enlighten humans but the world does not know him, and he is not received by his own kind. This too colors the passage we find in chapter 3, for there we are getting a flesh-n-blood, historical account of two people talking in which this idea from John’s prolog is working out.
But there is yet a far larger context here too, one which John obviously has placed his whole Gospel inside of which is the story of creation from Genesis 1-3. John’s whole Gospel account opens with a partial quote from Genesis 1:1 – in fact both books open the same way using the same opening words. This is not accidental. It is not merely a stylistic effect. In fact we should read John’s whole Gospel account as a reworking of Genesis – especially the creation account! And this is no fruitless endeavor, let me tell you!!!
I am not a Bible scholar, and my toolbox is lacking some of the tools which surely would aid this study, but even with my limitations I find sooooooooo much deep and rich connection between the creation account of Genesis and John’s presentation of Jesus that I proclaim John always intended this to be the Gospel of New Creation.
Here are just a FEW of the incredible observations I have found which point this direction for me:
- Jesus performs SEVEN signs in John’s Gospel. This does not mean he performes ONLY seven miracles according to John. No, not at all. John himself makes this clear in the final verse of his book (21:25). But John chooses seven signs to talk about which correspond perfectly to the seven days of creation.
- John’s account leaves the garden where Jesus is arrested NAMELESS. We know the name of this garden, not least, from the other Gospel accounts, AND we know John has not changed the location for any theological purposes, because he describes the correct location for Gethsemane without ever mentioning the name. Also, at the resurrection, Mary Magdalene finds the risen Jesus in the garden (nameless again) and mistakes him for the gardener! I submit for your consideration that John quietly drops the name of this garden so that you can better see the correspondence between the Garden of Eden and the work Jesus (the “last Adam” according to St. Paul, I Cor. 15:45). Also, John, rather than calling the place of crucifixion “Golgotha,” instead tells us it “was a garden” (19:41). Thus, Jesus completes the unfinished and incomplete work of Adam back at the start of the first creation.
- John’s Pilate presents Jesus after his beatings with a crown of thorns on his head proclaiming, “Behold! The Man!” in a perfect correlation with the Friday of creation in Genesis 1 where The Adam (“Adam” means “man”) is given dominion and rule over all the beasts and all of creation in a marriage/coronation ceremony. Also, The Adam/Man is made in the image of God! Those creatures not bearing the image of God are animals, thus when Pilate says, “Behold! The Man,” he conversely places himself and all those there to witness this presentation in the position of animals being ruled by the image bearer – thus New Creation!
- One more titillating observation… At the crucifixion, according to John 19:34, the soldier pierces Jesus’s side with a spear and immediately blood and water come out. This, I think – THINK – echoes off the wedding at Cana where water is turned to wine, but I really don’t know what the significance of that is (I keep studying and praying for more enlightenment), but I certainly see the divine surgery performed on The Adam of Genesis 2:21-25 where God causes a “deep sleep” to fall upon The Man (Jesus will be in the tomb three days in this same deep sleep) and he takes a rib and fashions it into a Bride. This, I believe, is the birth of the church, the Bride of Christ, according to John – a scene that looks very different from that of Luke’s account, but nonetheless true to Jesus, God, and the Bible.
Well, that is quite a digression into the larger scope of John and the Bible as a whole, but all of these things help set the contextual stage upon which our current passage plays its role, as I see it. I am sure my digression overwhelms my point, but let me get back to it. The point is to say that we are justified in looking at The Beginning (Genesis) as we reflect on the context of our troubling passage (3:19-21).
Applying My Life’s Experience to the Context
BEFORE I begin relating Genesis to this passage, though, let me explain the current application I THINK I see in this passage. This is the part that is REALLY troubling, at least for me, and I may as well go ahead and play this card now because my connection to Genesis will make better sense that way.
In my view, I have come to see “the darkness” Jesus speaks of here in John 3, as he talks to Nicodemus by night, as roughly equivalent to “privacy.”
This statement cuts against everything I ever thought before. It strikes me as completely absurd. This is not something I WANT to see in the Bible. It’s a sin-destroying observation that feels life threatening down to the core of me.
Is ALL privacy a matter of darkness? Just saying it like that makes the idea sound rediculous, I think. But don’t write it off until AFTER we look closer at both Genesis and Jesus’s crucifixion in relation to it.
I think about the first time I ever encountered the word “private,” I recall a large gate with a sign that read “Private Property” which my family used to drive past when I was a very small child. The fence was high and you could not see through it or over it. I asked my parents what the sign said and what it meant, and though the explanation was somewhat esoteric to my four year old mind, I got the idea it basically meant “keep out” or “you are NOT welcome,” and somehow that translated in my view into “We are better than you.” It quickly came to have a very negative connotation for me.
However, even from very early on in my life, I came to understand that any temptations I desired to succumb to needed to be dealt with in private. “Look both ways before you cross the street” morphed into Look over your shoulder before you take a cookie from the forbidden cookie jar!
Oh yes. There were evil deeds in which I wanted to engage, and even before I was out of the first grade, I knew well enough to take care and do them secretly – in the “darkness.” And some deeds I came to love.
I remember stealing once. I was with a group of kids who were a little older than me and a little wilder too. We met in the little club house almost like The Little Rascals, except one of the boys had the idea we needed soda pop and candy, but we did not have the money. However, we could steal some at the corner grocer and come back to our little hideout. We did.
I felt terrible about it. I finally confessed this to my parents. But first I lived with the secret – we all did. We had a brotherhood of darkness where we did these evil deeds.
Now that I am older, I think about privacy much more as a legal matter. There is the government and the private sector. There are HIPAA laws preventing me from talking openly about clients, patients, and foster children. These are not necessarily matters of evil deeds, but they are matters of darkness. And no doubt a published list of all the channels on TV or websites I view and a few other matters of that sort do, in fact, deal in matters of evil deeds done in the darkness, and I LOVE them and do not want to come into the Light where they are manifest for fear they be manifest!
So every time I hear about privacy advocates and privacy rights, I gotta say, I have a visceral reaction. I plainly see how easy it is to lose such rights, how hard it is to get them back, AND the damage done in the meantime!
Also, I want privacy, which SEEMS appropriate, every time I go to the restroom, every time I check into a motel, every time I speak on the phone.
None of these desires for privacy carry any overt shroud behind which to hide my evil deeds, per se. On the contrary, how can we order the public world if we let go entirely of privacy? We surely can’t have NAKED people running hither and yon… shopping at Walmart… worshiping in church!
The Genesis Context
And then there’s Genesis.
Genesis… the first week of creation. Creation where at the end of nearly each day God holds Judgment on his world and declares it was “GOOD.” And after day six, at least, it is populated with NAKED people running hither and yon bearing the image of God full frontal and no one says that you will die if you see him. No. It’s all good. NAKED and GOOD.
And then New Creation with John’s Gospel which so clearly echoes and resonates with old creation from Genesis, and where Pilate puts forth Jesus wearing nothing but a crown and the wounds of empire declaring “Behold! The Man!!!” And they enthrone him on Rome’s punishment set aside for runaway slaves and rebels with a sign saying he is King! And NAKED there, Jesus is coronated and married (or at least undergoes the divine surgery which will produce a mate befitting him rather than all the animals!).
This is the NAKED Light which came into the world and the darkness could not overpower it. This is God full frontal! LOOK AT HIM and LIVE!
Can you see why I am troubled by this?
I realize that I love my evil deeds in the darkness and fear them being made manifest. This comes ever more to LIGHT for me as I dare to Behold! The Man!
And he calls me to take up a cross and follow. One thing is clear to me now. When they crucify you, which is what is happening when you take up a cross and follow (assuming you do), then they strip you NAKED and you have no privacy, you have no darkness left to hide in. You are exposed to the light! Your deeds are manifest as having been wrought in God.
So how can I continue to be worried about my privacy if I am taking up a cross and following Jesus… if I love the Light?
Nicodemus and his colleagues carry no cross, nor do they follow Jesus. They love the darkness, and their deeds are manifest in the Light of Christ, the very thing they fear.
I wish I could just say that privacy rights are something different and have nothing to do with darkness, but I know that back when God judged the world GOOD, there was no privacy rights. There was NAKED vulnerable TRUST and complete fidelity in its place, and there was no need for privacy to manage the public sphere. Every particle of creation looked at the image bearer and saw God! And thus every particle of creation was accountable to him and found Shalom.
There is a lot of talk in recent weeks about “contact tracing” and Covid tracking” which has the potential to threaten our privacy. I have a deep aversion to that idea. But it seems therein the world finds healing.
As a modern American, I am deeply troubled by the idea that I might first and foremost be a Christian who seeks to be reconciled to God completely and to live in a world of his making and ordered by his will. And my little private places are merely pockets of darkness – pockets of resistance to that.
… or maybe I am just really mistaken about that…
What do you think?