God as light gives us truth. And he gives us the warmth of his self-conforming love. But he is also the most beautiful and the source of all the beauty we see around us. That God is the most beautiful might not strike us as clearly biblical in terms of the language, but “for the beauty of God Scripture has a special word: glory.” In fact, Scripture harps on God’s glory so much that we must say God is “the pinnacle of beauty, the beauty toward which all creatures point.” Every instance of beauty around us is an index finger pointing to God.
“The Father of lights”—that is your name,
A blinding brilliance among heavenly hosts,
For even angels with wings of flame
Can’t stare at Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Who is God? No question could run deeper, span wider, or coast longer on the words of men. There’s a rich deposit in Scripture of proper names and images. But let’s focus and just consider God as light, or as James called him, “the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
Light is closely associated with that old word “glory.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (2.2) says, “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them.”
That may sound stiff to today’s ears—with all those “haths” and “untos.” But think of it this way: God is the great, steadfast, immoveable light that shines behind and through this world. He is radiant. And that radiance touches everything, including you and me.
The Nicene Creed calls Jesus Christ “God of God, Light of Light” because his brilliance as the eternal Son matches the blinding radiance of the Father and Spirit.
This radiant God has filled the whole world with his light. In John Calvin’s words, “Whichever way we turn our eyes, there is no part of the world, however small, in which at least some spark of God’s glory does not shine. In particular, we cannot gaze at this beautiful masterpiece of the world, in all its length and breadth, without being completely dazed, as it were, by an endless flood of light.” An endless flood of light—that’s the God who stands behind the world we wake to. And yet you and I don’t wake up blinded. Why?
God is a Spirit (John 4:24). We can’t see spirits. So, while the God of radiance is blindingly bright, we walk through the world by faith in that light, believing that the Father of lights illumines all the things around us. Bavinck wrote, “The spirituality of God refers to that perfection of God that describes him, negatively, as being immaterial and invisible, analogously to the spirit of angels and the souls of humans; and, positively, as the hidden, simple (uncompounded), absolute ground of all creatural, somatic, and pneumatic being.” Now that’s a mouthful! Even my favorite theologians struggle to keep things “on the bottom shelf,” as my mother used to say. Bavinck is just trying to say that God as a Spirit is invisible and yet upholds everything we see. We might think of God as the light behind all earthly lights.
And because of that behindness, because the Father of lights is hidden, we can be tempted to think he isn’t really here. That, I argue in another book, is Satan’s great lie, the lie that tells us to live as if God weren’t really present. The great truth is that God is always present; he’s always the Light behind all lesser lights. Our awareness of him is a matter of Spirit-gifted faith, a certainty in what we cannot see (Heb. 11:1).
What it Means
But what, more specifically, does it mean to say that God is light? Though there are many things to discuss, let’s break our answer down into three qualities: truth, warmth (love), and beauty.
Truth. The radiance of God lets us see what is, what’s real. Just as a light in a darkened room shows us what’s there, God shows us the furniture of life: who we are, what matters most, what we should strive for. Bavinck writes, “Light in Scripture is the image of truth, holiness, and blessedness (Ps. 43:3; Isa. 10:17; Ps. 97:11).” God shines to show us what is true, sacred, and good. Elsewhere he says, “What light is in the natural world—the source of knowledge, purity, and joy—God is in the world of the spirit.” God is the light of truth, the one who shows us all, because he is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). He helps us see what’s around us, as well as our true spiritual condition. I’ve always loved how Charles Wesley expressed this in the great hymn “And Can It Be,”
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.