“Light has come into the world...” (John 3:19)
Walking into the sparsely lit car park, I panicked. For one terrible moment I thought that someone had stolen my car. It wasn’t where I thought I had left it! Closer inspection, however, brought great relief. Panic over… I felt a right fool. Then I was reminded of an old French proverb, used by Dumas as the title to one of the chapters of his Three Musketeers: ‘At Night all Cats are Grey’. This old adage is obviously designed to emphasize the principle that it is the primary prerogative of light to enable us to distinguish between things that differ. In poor light my car looked very much like any other.
How well I remember those blissfully uncomplicated days of my youth, playing football with my friends after school on the field at the rear of my house in Deepdale Drive, Rainhill. It was, of course, light when we started playing. But as our game was overtaken by the gathering dusk, it became difficult to ascertain whether one was passing the ball to a player of the same team. When the sun goes down, chalk and cheese, wine and water, brass and gold, weed and flower, friend and foe… all very closely resemble each other.
First published in 1892, George Gissing’s Born in Exile deals with the themes of class, religion, love and marriage. Gissing argues - perhaps with the Frenchman’s grey cats in mind - that an important decision should never be taken after dark. The brain is either utterly exhausted or preternaturally excited. Artificial light is not conducive to exact intellectual equilibrium. “Last night,” says Gissing’s heroine, “I wrote to father, but I shall not give him the letter.” “Ah, well,” replies her friend, “one can’t help distrusting the midnight: one has confidence in a purpose formed on such a morning as this!”
Light - the light by which men discern, discriminate and distinguish - was the ideal of the Jew. No word occurs more frequently in the Old Testament. It is the keynote of prophetic literature. “… your light will break forth like the dawn...” “… your light will rise in the darkness…” (Isaiah 58:8; 10), and so on. The New Testament perpetuates the same thought: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) The person who basks in that celestial brightness shall, that is to say, see all things in their true colours, in their real character, and in their just perspective.
In one of his most poignantly autobiographical passages, the Apostle Paul confesses that, if divine light had never streamed into his soul, he would never have been able to distinguish good from evil. It is only by the advent of light that a human spirit realizes its need. The atmosphere of a room looks perfectly pure, until the sun darts through a crack in the blind. At once a million specks of dust are seen dancing in that shaft of light.
When God shines His light into our hearts and lives, what was once inconspicuous because of the grey commonality of the darkness is exposed, and our true colours come shining through. Perhaps this is why so many prefer to keep their shutters up. In the darkness, one cannot distinguish between black and white. All the cats are grey. But take the shutters down, admit the light; and all things instantly appear as they really are. To quote the apostle Paul: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)