Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Into the light

and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen 1:2-5).

Here's an interesting detail. Notice the steady progression from general to specific. The contrast between day and night is more specific than the contrast between light and dark, while the contrast between dawn and dusk is more specific than the contrast between day and night. So there are increasing degrees of specificity. Light and dark could be anytime. Any duration. By contrast, day and night have calendar dates, while dawn and dusk are parts of a day–beginning and ending. Periods of light. 

Light and dark is the most general distinction. And that distinction needn't even be temporal. Taken a cavern that's perpetually dark. There the distinction between light and dark is spatial rather than temporal. 

By the same token, firelight (from a campfire or fireplace) and candlelight involve a spatial rather than temporal contrast. That would be familiar to ancient Israelites. 

Day and night involve a temporal and cyclical contrast, while dawn and dusk are brief, borderline conditions that shade into light or darkness. The boundaries of day and night. 

So the creation account has a certain motion to it. From darkness to light. From light to daylight. From daylight to dawn and dusk–as limiting cases. Moving into the light. Moving into daylight. Moving into the dawn of a new day–or twilight, which portends another day.

How would that be significant to the original audience? Well, I can't say for sure, but in general, I think that for people who lived before the advent of electricity, night was fearful. Darkness was threatening. In fact, modern man is still instinctively fearful of the dark. 

So moving into the light evokes connotations of safety. And having that to look forward to evokes hope. 

In the ancient world, people generally traveled on foot. Imagine you plan a trip to a destination that's a day's journey from home. You intend to leave early, but due to unforeseen circumstances, you are forced to get off to a late start. 

Say the sun is ahead of you when you start out. As you continue, the sun is overhead. Then the sun is behind you. And you begin to see your own shadow. And the shadow lengthens. And trees around you cast longer shadows. You are walking into darkness. 

You glance behind you and see the sun nearing the horizon. You begin to panic, because you're running out of light. You won't arrive at your destination before darkness falls. 

By contrast, imagine emerging from darkness into the light. Putting darkness behind you. Walking towards the light.

And that's a vampire trope. The traditional vampire mythos plays on Christian symbolism. Light is emblematic of God. Because a vampire is an evil, godless, satanic creature, it shuns the light. Sunlight is lethal. 

A vampire is active from dusk to dawn. If its prey can survive the night, the vampire can't follow them into the emerging sunlight. If they can make it through the night, if they can hold out until dawn, they put the danger behind them. 

For a vampire, the danger is just the opposite. To be overtaken by the dawn is fatal. 

Although that's fictional, it's rooted in Biblical symbolism. For instance, that's a leitmotif in John's Gospel and First John. Part of the unique power of John's Gospel lies in the evocation of these ancient and elemental symbols. They've retained their psychological grip on the modern reader. 

It has its basis in literal experience. That, in turn, creates a psychological resonance. And all that supplies a theological metaphor. 

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciated this post. Thanks, Steve! :-)

    ReplyDelete