Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The light of Christ

One thing that Ike Miller's book on illumination has brought out very clearly for me - and it's something I've thought about before - is that the gospel binds together word and experience, the objective and subjective.  The last chapter of the book in particular discusses illumination as a human experience.  Illumination that doesn't actually illuminate is not a thing.  The Divine Light of the Father, shining in the face of Christ, has to reach human hearts and minds in the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit.  The work of the Blessed Trinity has to bless actual human lives in their real experience; only then are we really talking about illumination as we see it in Scripture.

But putting it in those Trinitarian terms helps to explain what Christian experience is.  It is a genuine experience of God, but what that means is seeing by the Spirit the light of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  It means having the eyes of one's heart opened by the Spirit of God so that in Jesus we see God's glory.  Miller does a great job of showing how this means, for us, concretely an encounter with Christ mediated by the Scriptural witness.  The word of God written is the place where we meet the Word of God in person.  The light in the face of Christ comes to us in the light of the sacred page.

(As an aside, I am regularly struck by this prayer in the CW liturgy for Morning Prayer: 'As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you...'  It is a prayer which directly prefaces the reading of the Scriptures!  Of course it is.  Where else do we see the light of his presence?  I don't have Miller in front of me, so I can't be sure on this, but I don't think he particularly discusses how this would extend to the word of God preached, the proclamation of the church; but certainly on Barthian terms we would want to construe that in an analagous way to the use of Scripture).

Here's the thing: it's the same light - the Divine Light of the Father, the Light of the World in Christ Jesus, the Enlightening Holy Spirit who sheds light abroad in our hearts.  The same light.  The light which dawns in the heart is the same light which shone before there was a first dawn.  ("God, who said 'let light shine out of darkness' has shone in our hearts...")  And it is the light of Christ!  There is no divine light that reaches this world which is not mediated by Christ Jesus and carried to us by the Holy Spirit.

Christians from time to time talk as if you could separate spiritual experience from content; as if there were some access to God which did not have cognitive content.  I do not think that will fly.  We encounter God in his Word - in Christ as he is brought to us in Holy Scripture and biblical preaching - by the Spirit.  There is no chasm between the taught content of the gospel and the felt experience of the gospel, just as there is no gap between Christ and his Spirit.  We tear them asunder at our peril.

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