The Light which Hurts

Isa. 6:5.---' Then said I, Woe is me! for I am a man undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.'

The light which illumines hurts. That is the inward meaning of this passage. The first reaction of the prophet's soul was not, strangely enough, a movement of attraction, but one of intense shrinking, as though it had been better, being as he was, not to have seen at all. This phase of experience can be put into more or less conventional speech by saying that he who sees for the first time the vision of God at that same moment knows his own sin and unworthiness. That is profoundly true, and yet we shall avoid as far as possible that way of putting it, because it is too familiar for our minds to grasp. Is it not, however, true to say that any light brighter and clearer than we use for the needs of common life throws into dark contrast our customary moods and motives and surroundings? If we begin by using the word 'sin' for this self-discovery we seem to separate religion from the rest of life, and to regard it as lying within a province of its own with experiences to which there is no analogy outside those boundaries. But that separation is surely a false one which results in the impoverishment both of religion and of the life from which it is separated. It is true always that the first effect upon man of all his deepest discoveries is this self-revelation and humbling which says, 'Woe is me, for mine eyes have seen! The man who has never said something like that to himself has not seen far into the beauty and greatness of life.

A life without a sense of disconcerting depths is merely the other aspect of a life which has never seen the heights. Any aspect of life will serve to illustrate this. Who feels the pain and squalor of the world's ugliness but the man who has stood before the dream of beauty? Who is stung by the inequalities of life and opportunity except the man whose mind has responded to a great social ideal? It is not often men think of these things. They are not worrying about sin and imperfection in these wider forms. By an instinctive habit of self-protection we defend ourselves against the biggest things because they cost too much.

We are dealing, then, with a tendency of human nature always and everywhere. We are deluding ourselves if we imagine that men immediately and readily accept the highest when they see it. They do not, and the condition of the world today is sufficient evidence of itself to show that they do not. There is a constant pull downward. The tendency of things is towards the path of least resistance. We have had enough of that easy flattery of human nature which lauds it with unreal praise and suggests that men have only to be given the light in order to follow it. No doubt it is a reaction from the opposite extreme, which treated human nature as though it were entirely corrupt. But neither extreme is true. Man's nature has a response to both sides. And it is the division within himself that accounts for the reluctance with which he greets every new revelation. He cannot deny what his eyes have seen, and it is the greatness of man that will not let him deny it. But in his easier moments he almost wishes that the light had not come. It is woe to him that it has come, because the old acceptances are possible no longer. Every ideal is a seat of disturbance in human life. It lures and yet tortures. That is why the idealist must always be a man of sterner stuff than the rest of his fellows. He must be able to bear that struggle. If he cannot, he must either sacrifice the light he has seen or sink into a futile bitterness. But on no easier terms than that struggle imposes can any great ideal come into the center of life.

It this is true of ideals in general it is preeminently true of religion; and, further, it is a truth which cannot surely be denied that we tend to take the highest truths very easily today. It has seemed enough for us to try to gain some little light upon the meaning of life, to arrive at a broader creed; and we imagine sometimes when we have attained these things that an end has been reached, and we are satisfied. For some time past God has been brought to the judgment of the human mind, and it has been as though man were the judge and god the judged. But it is not what we think about God, but what God makes us think about ourselves and the world. Is our thought of God big enough to make us feel that the knowledge is woe to us, that the very greatness of it stands over against the things we are living for and judges them? That is the real test, for unless there is that contrast, what can our religion do to remake us and to remold our world? Men may be soothed by the religion which condones their offences and sheds a soft light on everything, but they do not really believe it. Deep down in our hearts we all know that something far more decisive than that is needed both for ourselves and for the world at large.

Now it is not enough to remind such people that they are unconscious believers; nor is it enough to excuse ourselves for lack or reverence on any specious ground. The lack of this note is a radical defeat of modern civilization, which may ultimately endanger its whole existence. The task of religion today has a tremendous reality and urgency. We are not dealing with figments and shadows; we are face to face with mammonism and greed and hatred and vice. The little expedients we try fail on every hand and they will go on failing. Life ultimately will resolve itself into order and beauty and fellowship only under the constraint of a great vision. It is not the restlessness and discontent of the time that has to be feared so much as the readiness to go back to old ways and the ease with which men can forget their moments of insight. Not until we have seen a God who makes us cry woe upon ourselves and our world shall we be in possession of a faith that can rebuild the ruined fabric of human happiness. Unless we are moved to the depths of our being and stand self-revealed and humbled before the greatness of the vision, there is no dawn of a greater day for us or for the world.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha