Sometimes I think God is too good to be true, and sometimes I think our world is too bad to be true. It's hard to believe in a God who would redeem me – too good to be true. But in much of the world, violence and disaster seem too bad to be true. In the Reformed tradition, these two mind-benders are related. God redeems us, and then God appoints us as agents to redeem a broken world.
People who know me know that I love Renaissance art. I act like I know a lot about it, but I don't, really. And I know even less about Impressionism, because, although I've gone faithfully to the Monet and Degas exhibits, I get a little tired of haybales, dancing girls and pastels. In an amateur like me, Impressionism provokes less emotion than do the rich colors, themes and passions of the great Renaissance masters. For my lack of sophistication, I apologize to the art department, to France, and to knowledgeable artists everywhere.
On every trip I make to Washington, D.C., I try to visit the National Gallery of Art. A couple of years ago the NGA hosted an exhibit of the late religious portraits of one of my favorite artists – Rembrandt. This master has no peer when it comes to his use of light on dark and suffused shadows. In his late religious paintings, it seems the contrasts are even bolder than in his earlier works – more darkness, brighter light.
Rembrandt's use of light helps me understand my role, our role, in redeemingthis fallen world. Our daughter Brenna gave me Marilyn McEntyre's book of poems on Rembrandt's religious paintings, Drawn to the Light. And that's exactly what you experience standing before his work. You are drawn to the light. It shines so brightly against dark interiors that your eyes move instantly away from the shadows. The contrast animates the light.
I think this is God's redemption strategy. We are to shine brightly against the darkness of our world. Surrounding ourselves with light feels good, but we lose our illuminating influence. When a student enjoys a sack lunch while hanging out with other students, it's no big deal. But that same sack lunch bursts with light when a Whitworth En Christo volunteer sits down and shares it with a homeless person.
John Stott once observed that when we enter a dark room, we don't blame it for being dark; we turn the light on. Maybe we need to spend a bit less time condemning darkness for being dark and more time shining our lights. But I wouldn't blame you if you felt like a pretty small flicker. I know I do. So how do we shine?
At the Rembrandt exhibit there was one painting with way more light than any of the others. It was a painting of the resurrected Christ. Seeing it, I was reminded of the words of the Apostle John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." That's when it hit me: We're not the light, not even a flicker. We're reflectors.
Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." In Rembrandt's Resurrection, the light shines against the darkness. Whitworth can be proud when its students graduate with courage to enter the darkness and strength to reflect the light.