2 Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (NIV)
When the prophet Isaiah spoke of a people walking in darkness, in Isaiah 9:2, he was speaking of the spiritual and moral condition of human hearts. In Scripture, "the heart" refers the centre and source of the whole inner life, including the mind and conscience.
A heart's darkness is somewhat like a dark attic. Over time, a vast array of stuff accumulates and gets scattered around, covered with dust. It lies hidden in undisturbed darkness. In the heart (or mind) this may be unexamined values, faulty assumptions, and contradictory beliefs. It may include cherished resentments, unacknowledged fears, beloved idols, or distorted self-illusions. This is the "stuff" that drives our lives without our awareness. It can obstruct healthy living and steer us towards harmful choices. Our unexamined thoughts can destroy us. That is why our hearts need to be scrutinized by a bright light.
We naturally recoil from brazen scrutiny. We don't like to see ourselves as we are. Pride resists exposure, and so we work harder to barricade the door and upgrade our facade. At some point, often through crises, we find ourselves facing the unordered chaos of our hearts. This is exactly where God meets us and shines His light. God's aim is not to condemn us, but to open us to grace.
We may not wish to view the human heart as a dark place. But how do we explain our universal bent towards evil? Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist, observed people during World War II and wondered how highly-civilized people could perform such despicable evil. He concluded that efforts to civilize humans merely suppress their evil urges. He wrote, "There adheres to the most tender and profound of our loving relationships a little piece of hostility which can stimulate the unconscious desire for death." Much of Freud's work has necessarily been debunked, but on that point, he is not far from Isaiah's words: "See, darkness covers the earth, and a thick darkness is over the peoples." (Isaiah 60:2a NIV) For Freud, the heart's darkness was a mystery; he couldn't explain it. Neither could he accept the prophetic promise that a Saviour would lift the darkness by shining his light in hearts.
Today, as always, Christ conquers spiritual darkness by softening hardened hearts and sensitizing them to God so that they are "light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8 NIV). Christ is still the antidote — with effect: "for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth." (Ephesians 5:9 NIV)
Prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Amen. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV)