I was sitting on my deck the other morning as the sun was just coming up over my neighbor’s house. I noticed its rays shone at such an angle that I could see a whole new world of single-strand cobwebs running from the deck chairs to the deck itself, from the deck to the trees, and from branch to branch among the trees. It looked like a system of super highways that was built over night. I had never noticed them before nor did I see them any longer after the sun had risen to another angle. My point is that I would not have seen them at all unless the sun was shining just right.
While you could call this a “Meditation on the Back Deck,” CS Lewis wrote a more perceptive essay on the same topic called “Meditation in a Tool Shed.”
I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specs of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.
Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree moving outside and beyond that, ninety-odd millions of miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experience.
Psalm 36:9 reads “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light.” (NASB) It is interesting that Columbia University (NYC) has this for its logo In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen, “In thy light we see light.” At one time Columbia (as so many colleges) was founded upon the conviction that God’s Word formed the very basis of understanding the world and therefore of all knowledge. In fact the seal of the university depicts a woman seated on a throne holding an open Bible in her right hand bearing the inscription Logia Zonta, “The Words of Life.”
Things have changed quite a bit at Columbia U over the years, but what remains the same is what we read in Psalm 36:9 that God is not only the source of life but His truth forms the basis of understanding the world and is the context for knowledge.
Jesus said “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12 In the context, the Pharisees were in the toolshed of unbelief. They saw the Light and even saw some pretty miraculous things by it, but most of them did not step into it to believe and follow.
Stepping into the light of following Christ means that we will see things differently. It is a life of wisdom and discernment not governed by the way our culture thinks but by the truth of God’s Word spoken in Scripture and embodied by the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, we have a different core from which our thinking starts. We may come to a similar conclusion (or not) as our culture, but for reasons that flow from having the “Light of the world” at our core.
I marvel at all the protests and cultural movements that I have seen impact society in my lifetime: the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-war movement during Viet Nam, the Women’s Liberation movement, Black Power movement, Black Lives Matter, Free Love movement, Gay Rights movement, Anti-nuke movement, Pro-choice and Pro-Life movements, Occupy Wall Street movement, Social Justice movement, #MeTo movement, to name just a few. These movements have always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me as a citizen, a Christian and a pastor. I always wanted to understand the truth in each movement and the issues raised and not merely reacting against the movement because of the politics of its advocates nor adopting a position of support just because it was consistent with my own political views.
Invariably, as I looked at these issues in the light of God’s truth the first thing I saw was my own sin and need for repentance. I saw how I had failed by omission or commission to live according to the light of God’s truth in a lot of these areas that were being pointed out by these cultural movements. I had become a part of a system that helped create an injustice that was being pointed out by protest. In other words, I needed to deal with my own sin and complicity before I could speak to the hypocrisy and double standard of my culture.
For example, how do I respond to the #MeTo movement? I honor and respect women as equals before God not because of the movement, but because I live in the light of God’s truth spoken by Scripture and lived out by Jesus in his relationship with women. However I also recognize my own flawed heart and repent of the times I’ve objectified women and failed to be sensitive to how other men talked about women more as conquests than as people. I have also failed to see the brokenness of those women who have suffered sexual abuse and predatorial fears since childhood, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. It is the oppression of the powerful against the powerless, much like what is mentioned in the Bible about the oppression of widows and orphans by the rich. The light of God’s truth helps me to see this.
Yet, the light of God’s truth also enables me to see the hypocrisy of our society that in all of its protests it still seems to be driven more by power and wealth than by justice and equality; more about winners and losers than healing, more about revenge than forgiveness, more about getting ahead by destroying others. Why is there no movement to put an end to any media advertising that objectifies and uses women in sexual or suggestive ways in order to sell products? We did it for smoking, why not for this? To prevent cancer is important, but to prevent the moral cancer of our cultural soul is even more a priority.
In keeping with this, why can’t we prosecute the purveyors of pornography? Is it really “free speech” or “artistic expression” protected by the First Amendment? Most thinking people will agree that pornography is obscene and is not in keeping with any community’s standards. But then our toolshed culture argues about the very definitions of obscene and prurient. At the same time prostitution is still against the law in most places. I’m not advocating for its legalization but is this not a double standard? Some say that pornography is victimless and actually cuts down on rape and unwanted sexual advances in our society. Oh really? If you think that porno has not had an impact on the lives of the sexual abusers that have been exposed and deposed by the #MeTo movement, then you are living in a dark toolshed indeed!
There is also the double standard of those in Hollywood and the entertainment industry who are the most outspoken supporters of the #MeTo movement. It seems like these very same celebrities are oblivious to the fact that the movies they make and the clothes they wear at the Emmy’s continue the culture of objectification and violence against women.
We may live in this toolshed culture but we do not need to live in its’ darkness. “In your light, we see light.” God’s light enables me to see the need for repentance and owning up to my sin. God’s light also helps me to see the sin and hypocrisy of my culture so I can be a part of the solution to the very issues raised. We have stepped into the light, let us live like it!