Background Passages: Matthew 5:14-16, Proverbs 16:7, and John 16:33
As a child, my parents took us to Carlsbad Caverns. The natural formation descending into the New Mexico prairie was an impressive sight to an eight-year-old. Walking into the cave and among the stalactites and stalagmites, it felt as though I walked in an alien world.
A one point in the guided tour, the park ranger gathered everyone around and turned out the lights. I don’t remember seeing anything so dark as that moment. It was pitch black painted on ebony. I will admit now what I never admitted then. It was frightening. After about 30 seconds of absolute darkness that seemed far longer, he lit a candle. One single candle penetrated the darkness that surrounded us, casting a welcoming glow across the cavern. He then lit the candle held by another ranger and they, in turn, lit candles held by the adults on the tour. By the time all the candles were burning, it was as bright as day…at least to this frightened eight-year-old.
What a metaphor for the power of God’s light in a world smothered in darkness!
We live in an angry and bitter world filled with voices attempting to draw us into a personal and political conflict, baiting us with hateful words saturated with images of a dark world no one wishes to see. Neither side of the issues we face are innocent of the confrontational atmosphere that pervades our conversations and our messages in social or mainstream media. Spiteful words sow the field of discontent. As a result, personal relationships, many of which had lasted a lifetime, litter the trash heap.
Sadly, many in the Christian community get sucked into the vortex and react in ways that surely make our Father wince in pain. How are we to respond when our beliefs, whether religious, personal or political, fall under attack? What is the Christian response to the darkness that surrounds us? I came across three verses this week that seemed to answer those questions for me.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden, 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. Let your light so 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
We are called to be a light to the world. It is an expectation…a given. When we accept Christ as our savior, he expects us to live by his standards, obedient to his teaching. He expects us to be stand out from the crowd as a living example of godliness and goodness. We are light to the world when our good works, the things we think, say and do, reflect the glory of the Father… candle that sheds its light and offers its hope. When all Christians behave in that manner, darkness doesn’t stand a chance.
Then in Proverbs 16:7, the wisdom writer says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Hateful speech drives a wedge between us. Kindness binds the wound. A man’s ways can only please the Lord when he is living a Christ-centered life–faithful, just and charitable. If that is the life one lives, the world is captivated by the visible testimony of gentleness, empathy and understanding. It is hard to remain angry with someone who listens, who goes the extra mile to serve, who treats others with sincere respect and who loves unconditionally as Christ loved the world. The proverb speaks to the far-ranging influence of goodness—how it inspires friendship and love, offers no grounds for argument, disarms even the most vocal opponent and spreads an atmosphere of peace and understanding. These are reconciling actions we should bring to the world
We are reconciled with those who stand against us only when we are first reconciled to God. When we live the life he requires of us, we cannot remain angry and bitter. When we live the life he requires, even those who believe and behave differently than us, find common ground and find it difficult to stay angry and bitter.
Dealing with a world that is often at odds with Christian beliefs is an important part of life; an important part of our witness. When we treat others right, peace among us is usually the natural response. But, there is more power behind our actions than our own ability to bring about understanding. God blesses our most challenging relationships if we live within his will. Our behavior can certainly mitigate the anger of others, but God can also be at work in the lives of those we encounter to calm the anger within their own hearts.
Peace in our relationship with others sprouts from our own righteousness–not in our hostility, nor our acts of reprisal. Godly living pleases both God and men, but hatefulness fosters more anger, more bitterness. To be that light in the darkness we must live and act in ways that please God.
The final verse I read stands as a promise to all believers weary of the discord that surrounds us. To those of us struggling to find hope in an environment of increasing hopelessness. Jesus shared a needed message with his disciples at a time when they were filled with despair and he shares the same message with us.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
If the world falls deeper into despair this week, burn as a light amid the darkness. Make your life a reflection of Christ. If your light doesn’t seem bright enough, rest in the peace that God offers his children, secure in the promise that whatever hold the darkness has upon us today is temporary. He has overcome and, in his arms, so will we.
Keep your candle burning.