A House of Light – Part 2: Uncreated Light

God is light

 

Light uncreatedI FIRST ENCOUNTERED THE CONCEPT OF UNCREATED LIGHT reading a book on Christian aesthetics, in a discussion of how art affects the mind and the senses. I discovered the idea had its origins in Eastern Orthodox theology, in the understanding of the experience of the disciples in seeing Jesus’ transfiguration. What Peter, James, and John saw when Jesus was “transfigured before them”, and “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light” (Matthew 17:1-3), was not a heightening of natural light, but a shining out of divine, uncreated light, which Jesus possessed by virtue of his own divinity. The sight of disciples was transformed by the Spirit to enable them to see this light. The Orthodox theologian and monk Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1359) explains:

“This light, then, is the light of the Godhead, and it is uncreated. . . . . when Christ was transfigured He neither received anything different, nor was changed into anything different, but was revealed to His disciples as He was, opening their eyes and giving sight to the blind. Take note that eyes with natural vision are blind to that light. It is invisible, and those who behold it do so not simply with their bodily eyes, but with eyes transformed by the power of the Holy Spiritransfiguration icon fnl stretchedt.” (Homily 34)

Only those who are “pure in heart” and enabled by God’s grace and initiative are able to see this uncreated light.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a practice of prayer and contemplation was developed around this idea. I am not a deep enough student of either Orthodox prayer or theology to comment on this practice, but the insight concerning uncreated light struck me as deeply true, and (excuse the double entendre) deeply enlightening. “God is light” (1 John 1:5) is not merely a useful metaphor (though it certainly is that). No, our experience of created light, no matter how intense, is the barest inkling of the “unapproachable light” that is God’s dwelling (1 Timothy 6:16), the nature and place of his Being, his own House of Light.

JOHN, THE APOSTLE WHO DECLARES THAT “GOD IS LIGHT”, ALSO PROCLAIMS THAT “GOD IS LOVE” (1 John 4:8). The two go together. According to another Eastern Orthodox father Gregory Nazianzus (329 – 390), God is pelagius essentiae infinitae—the ocean of infinite essence, and we cannot directly know God’s essence. But if we cannot see all the way into the depths it is because God lives in light that is substantial, burning more fiercely than the fusion of any star, and whose fuel is unbounded and inexhaustible love. This too is not just metaphor or poetry. It is the reality of which all things created are an echo and an image.

Near the end of his vision in the book of Revelation, John one more time brings us to the Light, when he describes the Holy City within the New Creation: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:22-23). And so, we will dwell in God’s house of light, forever.

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About Michael W Nicholson

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, father, and grandfather, a brother and a friend. My professional career has been in education. I taught Industrial Arts in Middle School for six years, four years as an adjunct professor in theology and philosophy, and fifteen years teaching classes in Old Testament, Apologetics, and Worldviews in a Christian High School. Like everyone else who breathes in American culture, I am infected with chronic postmodernity, but I am aware of this and regularly administer the treatment: Historic Christian Orthodoxy as contained in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. I am fascinated by almost every subject imaginable, except economics. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe in a God who wants to be found; who leaves signs and suggestions, trademarks, signatures, and signposts scattered throughout every aspect of our existence. And if we are truly looking, He will find us. God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love. My blog covers a wide range of topics around this central theme that the transcendent realm surrounds and permeates our existence. I put up new posts periodically. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they help.
This entry was posted in Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A House of Light – Part 2: Uncreated Light

  1. Gene says:

    Dr. Nicholson: I enjoy reading your blog. This one brought to mind the verse: If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship wiht one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. I John 1:7. Gene

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