Hank Williams Never Saw the Light…

Before I start, let me put it up front that I am heavily indebted to Peter Rollins for much of the content of this post.  Credit being given where credit is due…let’s get going…

It is almost a misleading title I offer on this one.

I tell you that Hank Williams never saw the light.  And your temptation is to tell me that I am judging him because of his various addictions.  Perhaps I’m judging the way he died.  Perhaps I’m judging his lifestyle as it opposes his singing of songs like “I Saw the Light.”

But no.

There but for the Grace of God go I…

Instead, I am offering you commentary on the idea that no one has ever seen the light.  Though I love Hank’s song…and I sing it often…I find some very strong places in which I cannot fully support what is being said.

What I mean by this is that quite literally no one has ever seen light.

In 1 John 1:5 we learn that “God is light.  In him is no darkness at all.”  And so we are left to question why John would have used such a metaphor to describe who God is, and what that metaphor might tell us about our experience of God.

First of all let’s let it sink in that in God’s authoritative Word to humanity, the Bible, this phrase is admitted.




So what do we know about light?

First of all we can discuss the speed of light.  As one pastor pointed out…If I see a car headed at me at 20 miles per hour, and for some unknown reason I decide that instead of stepping out of the way, I will run away from the car, something peculiar happens.  If the car is bearing down on me at 20 miles per hour, and I turn and run at 10 miles per hour away from the car…then the car is only bearing down on me at 10 miles per hour.

But light is different.

If I were to see a photon of light bearing down on me at – well – let’s just say the speed of light…then I decide to turn and run, then no matter how fast I run away from that photon of light – ten miles an hour…twenty miles an hour…a hundred miles an hour…a trillion miles an hour – the light is still bearing down on me at the speed of light.

So light is somehow what theologians would call “imminent.”  It is present with us.  No matter where we go, no matter what we do, Light is there.  We are surrounded by light.  One might almost say that light is that in which we “live, move and have our being.”  In fact if we see anything at all it is because light is there saying, “hey…look at this…”

So Light is all around us.  Though we have never seen it.  In 1 John 4:12 John tells us that no one has ever seen God.  This is important for us to hear.  And we might be tempted to point to God showing himself to Abraham from the back as he passed by the cleft of the rock.  But John says, “Actually…what you saw wasn’t really fully God, because no one has seen God.”  And the same can be said for light.

We may study light.  But the only way we can study it is to break it down into its component parts.  We distort it through a prism and break apart the multitude of colors in its spectrum.  But none of the colors we look at are actually the light.  They are merely aspects of the light.

And when we look at light one way we see it as traveling in particles.  But we look at it another way and we see it traveling in waves.

Sometimes it is one.

But sometimes it is several.

It all depends on our perspective.

So, everything we know about light is a distortion of what that light actually is.  It is all around us, but somehow it transcends us.  This is what theologians call transcendence.  It is present in the common idea that God is somehow separate from us.  He is off on some cloud somewhere, and we are here.  It is the aspect of God that leads to atheism.  Not the atheism of the modern atheist.  Not the atheism of Nietzsche or Dawkins or Hitchins.  Instead is is an existential atheism.  It is the type of atheism that G.K. Chesterton said Christ experienced on the cross as he cried out, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani” (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”).

And beyond all this one might say that no matter who we are…no matter how orthodox or unorthodox…we all have some sense of God that is a false sense of God.  We may be Christian.  We may be Atheist.  We may hold to any number of religious or philosophical identities.  But each of us has some skewed view of God.  If God can truly be called God, then it is a necessity that our ideas of God be somehow less than who God is.

In other words, the religious person grabs their prism and looks at their idea of the “Light” and says, “Look…light is red and it moves in photon packets.”  While another religious person looks at light and says, “no…light is blue and it moves in waves.”  Then they fight.

The intellectual atheist looks around and says, “Look, you can’t see this without the tools that you bring to look at it. Put down your prisms and accept the reality that light isn’t here.”  All the while they don’t realize that the very fact that they see anything at all shows that there is light…even if they don’t see the light nor understand it.The existential atheist has seen one of the distortions of the light through their prism, and then put down the prism and stopped seeing it.  So they conclude it must have been in their imagination.  Then they walk around in this tension between knowing that light is there, but frustration that they can’t see it as it is, and then somehow doubting it was ever there to begin with.

But I would argue that existential atheism is something that, in some sense, is a part of Christianity. We can see God saying to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”  We can see David saying “If I go to heaven, you are there.  If I make my bed in hell, you are there.”  While we also have verses saying, “No one has ever seen God.”  Somehow the Christian walks in this tension between a God who is as close as our breath, but as distant as the farthest reaches of the universe.

Tillich said that “The courage to be is rooted in the God that appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt.”

So it is when we let go of the need to define God in some way that limits God that we can truly experience God.  It is when we kill the god of our imagination that we come face to face with the real God.  God is not angry at idolatry because God is threatened by our worship stone carvings.  God is angry at idolatry because each false image of God that we set up is a brick in the wall that divides us from the relationship we were created to enjoy.

And so, that is one of the things that separates Christianity from religion.  Religion says, “This aspect of light that I have studied is comprehensive, and anything that contradicts that is heresy.”  Christianity says, “Please learn the difference between contradiction and paradox.”  Religion says, “I have studied the scriptures and I have developed a comprehensive systematic theology and a catechism of creedal statements that will answer any question you could possibly have about God.”  Christianity says, “God is a mystery.  God is indescribable.  God is like light…whatever we know about God is only a piece of the puzzle.”

So, the question and the challenge offered here is this:  Do we compare each of our puzzle pieces to find out how they fit together, or do we continue to puff our our chests and claim that our individual pieces are all that are needed to see the whole picture?  The invitation is to a conversation.  I love you.  Let’s talk…


About Andrew

The Universe is Round. View all posts by Andrew

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