I check in periodically these days at the Saturday morning men's Bible study and breakfast. I always get oatmeal. The management bought raisins especially for me.
The men have decided (without consulting me!) to begin a study of the Gospel of John. This is the favorite gospel of one of the group's members. I'm sure they've studied John's gospel before. After all they've been meeting for over twenty years.
Last Saturday we waded through the third chapter of John: Jesus and Nicodemus, light and darkness, the most familiar verse in the whole Bible. As for me, for some reason I always imagine Nicodemus sitting in the shadows. We can hear his voice, but we can't see him very well. (Or is it Jesus that is sitting in the shadows? I can't be sure.) I like to remind Bible study participants that in the next chapter Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well in broad daylight. The themes of light and darkness run deep.
For some reason, somewhere along the line I remembered an old Peanuts cartoon. This is how it went:
In the first panel, Linus is standing in the darkness, holding a candle, and reciting the famous saying: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
The second panel is dark. The third panel shows Linus' sister Lucy, shouting, "You Stupid Darkness!!!"
In the fourth panel, Linus quips, "Although there are some who would disagree with me."
We talked about being born again, and what baptism does (or doesn't) have to do with that. Some one thought that identifying being born again with baptism, was "putting a lot of pressure on a ceremony". Someone else (maybe it was me?) said that identifying being born again with a particular one-time experience also put a lot of pressure on that one-time experience. It's the ongoing relationship that is important. An analogy with literally being born: it is not the birth certificate that is the proof that you were born, it is the fact that you are alive. (I got this insight from N.T. Wright.)
While eating breakfast, our conversation meandered around the themes we had discussed: relationships with God, being born from above, light and darkness, darkness and light. It's epiphany after all. One participant mentioned a family member who had not been a believer as an adult. Same upbringing, same baptism, same confirmation classes. But such a different result. He had gone to college, and to graduate school. One member of the group thought perhaps that was the problem: "the colleges have been taken over by the secular humanists", he thought.
The other man was not so sure. Maybe it was the experience this family member had of the church, of Christians. He wasn't sure about that, but it could have been.
Could it have been possible that the believers he knew were more interested in cursing the darkness than they were in lighting a candle, more interested in condemning sin than in embracing sinners, more interested in judgment than in mercy?
The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it.