February 3, 2008
“The Light that Shines in a Dark Place”
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:19-21
Once, when Jesus was arguing with the Sadducees, he said to them, “You are in error because you do not know the Holy Scriptures.” The Sadducees were the liberals of Jesus’ day. They were wealthy, well educated, politically powerful, and quite skeptical of biblical teaching. They denied the existence of angels or devils. They denied the resurrection of the dead. They thought they knew more than others did, but they knew very little because they didn’t know the Bible.
Biblical ignorance in America today is profound, and not only among liberals who despise traditional values and moral standards. People don’t know the Bible. Once upon a time biblical knowledge was a part of public education in America. Americans were familiar with many of the stories and teachings of the Bible. This has become less and less the case. I used to teach a class for Concordia University in Wisconsin called “The Bible as Literature.” Many of my students were scandalized by the events recorded by Moses in Genesis about the lives of the patriarchs and their wives. They were mostly in their twenties and thirties, well on their way to getting a college degree, and they were biblically illiterate.
This is why it is so easy for religious con artists posing as men of God to lure people away from the truth to follow whatever gospel they think will enrich and empower them. Thank God for the Catechism! It sums up the teaching of the Bible in simple language that we can commit to memory so that it will remain with us wherever we go.
St. Peter calls the Bible “a light that shines in a dark place.” It shines the truth in the darkness of error. It shines with the light of the world. Jesus is the reason the Bible was written. Jesus is the light who came into the world. Look at Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. His face shines like the sun. His clothes are as white as light. He is the eternal Word become flesh. He is the substance of the Holy Scriptures.
This means that the Bible was written specifically for the purpose of leading us to faith in Christ. Listen to what St. Paul says to Timothy about the purpose of the Bible:
From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
Notice how the Apostle talks about what the Bible is able to do before he talks about what the Bible is. First he says that the Bible is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. Then he says that the Bible is inspired by God, that it is God’s word.
If we come to the Bible for some other purpose than to find Christ our Savior in its pages we will be blinded to the true teaching of God’s word by our own false expectations. We must read the Bible on its own terms. It is a light shining in a dark place. Jesus is the light of the Bible. Look at the mountain where he revealed his glory. Look to see his face shining like the sun. See his clothes as white as light. Who is there with him? We see two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. We see three New Testament apostles, Peter, James, and John. We see Jesus, the light of the world, at the center of the Holy Scriptures. He is in the Old Testament concealed. He is in the New Testament revealed.
We are told to look to the Holy Scriptures. Why is that? It is because the written Word of God is more certain than even our own experiences. What we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell is real. We depend on our senses. But the truth of the Bible is even more sure than what we experience with our senses. Listen to St. Peter. He says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” More sure than what? More sure than what Peter saw with his eyes and heard with his ears. Most Bible translations miss this point and so mistranslate this text. They translate the words, “we have a more sure word of prophecy” as “we have the word of prophecy confirmed.” They assume that Peter’s eyewitness testimony has somehow confirmed or validated the Holy Scriptures. Well, I suppose that’s true, but that’s not what the text says. The text says that the word of prophecy or the Holy Scriptures is more sure than Peter’s own experience. The Holy Scriptures validate our experience. It is not the other way around.
What do we see? We see the body in the casket. What does the Bible say? It says that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that this mortal body will become an immortal body. I’ve never seen that and neither have you. We see, we hear, we feel all sorts of things that contradict the words of the Bible. We may not safely depend on our experiences or feelings.
We feel a certain way. Is this feeling from God? Maybe not. Christians assume things based on their feelings and they are led astray. In defense of just about every kind of sin, Christians ask themselves, “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Then they reason that if they do this they’ll be miserable and if they do that they’ll be happy. And, you guessed it, what will make them miserable is what God in the Bible says they should do and what will make them happy is what God in the Bible says they should not do. So they have the abortion. They get the divorce. They cheat, lie, steal, and lash out in anger. They do what they feel they should do at the moment, setting aside the Bible and the permanent standards of right and wrong contained therein.
And setting aside the biblical standards for their conduct, they ignore as well the biblical foundation for their faith. They have Jesus in their heart, they say. They feel him. They sense him. They don’t need to go to church to find Jesus in the preaching of the gospel. They certainly don’t need the Sacramental of the Altar. They have the light within. So they trust in that light within and are led into every kind of false faith imaginable. They lose confidence before God because they don’t have God. They don’t have God because they don’t go to where God reveals himself.
And should they decide to go to the Bible, they take it in whatever way fits in with what they have already decided it should say. But the Bible doesn’t mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. As St. Peter reminds us, “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Since the Holy Spirit moved the biblical writers to write what he wanted them to write the Bible is literally God’s word. Therefore, it cannot be interpreted in such a way as to contradict itself. God cannot err or be mistaken. Therefore, the Bible must be interpreted by the Bible. God interprets his own words. His words aren’t ours to twist and to turn to suit our own feelings.
We are bound to the words of the Bible to know what God has to say to us. We are bound to the words of the Bible until the end of time. As St. Peter puts it, “Until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” For the time being, our hearts are a poor guide for living and a poor foundation for faith. But the Bible cannot deceive us. Its standards are solid and sure and its promises are faithful.
Peter wanted Jesus to stay on the mountain where his glory was revealed. And so it is with us. We look to our religion to benefit us in some tangible way. We want to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the success that God gives. If we cannot, we look to counterfeits and invent false gods who will deliver what we want. This is idolatry. There is only one way idolatry can be excised from our hearts and destroyed. That is at the cross. Jesus left the mountain of transfiguration to go to Mount Calvary. The visible glory showed to Peter, James, and John had to give way to the hidden glory that exists only underneath the bitter suffering and death of Jesus. The true glory of Christ is hidden under his suffering because it is in his suffering that the power of light destroyed the power of darkness. Purity defeated vice. Innocence destroyed guilt. God crushed the devil. We won. We were purchased by the blood shed there. We were set free, and became friends of God. Our sins that burdened us and blinded us and kept us away from God were washed away. Epiphany means nothing without Lent, this is for certain. Only in the humility of Christ can we find our gracious God and be enlightened by his gifts.
So we go to our Bibles to find Jesus. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible. It is not just a book to be revered. It is the very words of the living God that reveal Christ our Savior to us. He never changes. The standards he gives us to live by remain the same. The truth of his gospel will not change. The Bible points us to the free forgiveness of all our sins through faith alone in Jesus’ blood as the central truth upon which the church and our lives are built. We look to the Bible and we find Jesus. He is the light that enlightens the darkness of our hearts and enables us to live with confidence in a sin-darkened world. Isaiah speaks for all of us Christians when he writes:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)
Rolf D. Preus