A verse from Proverbs (6:23) caught my eye appropriately enough considering the verse.
“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life…”
And in my mind I imaged what I saw.
In the verse the lamp and the light are different things. This is obvious enough, and yet it was only in looking at a vigil lamp that the distinction became all the more clear.
The commandment is the lamp, but it is not the light. The light is the teaching and it is what we really need to enlighten us. The lamp is needed to hold the light as the commandment is needed to to bring the teaching to us, but the commandment is not the teaching. Similarly, the Bible is like the commandment – it is the lamp but not the light.
Having the lamp will not necessarily give you the light. A dark room full of unlit lamps is still dark. The lamps in and of themselves cannot change the darkness.
“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light…”
Scripture alone will not give us the light – we must have the teaching, the meaning of the text to know how to live: to see what is and to see the way. My friend, Fr. Silviu tells me in Proverbs 6:23, the Hebrew uses the word Torah for teaching and mitzbah for commandment. Perhaps we can say Scripture is the lamp, Tradition the light for it illuminates the lamp from which it draws the oil to fuel the flame.
The lamp of course does serve as a container for storing the oil, but that is not its main purpose. It’s purpose is none other than to be the place upon which the light, Torah, the teaching, the glory of God rests.
In Revelation 21:23, we read:
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
Now the glory of the Lord is the light which rests upon the Lamb of God who is the lamp.
One more thought – Luke 11:34-36 has this:
“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”
The optical theory prevalent in biblical times was that the eye gave out light which allows you to see things – unlike the modern idea that light is reflected off of an object into our eye which absorbs the light and translates it into images in our brain. But the eye as lamp means it is the place where the light resides which illumines our hearts and minds, literally the whole body.
What remains obvious and interesting is a commonly understood difference between lamp and light. Light for the biblical authors has a concrete location from which it emanates. We tend to think of light as an energy diffuse throughout the world or throughout a room (with the notable exception of laser light which at least in popular thinking is more of an idea of a beam of light that emanates from a source). ‘
Electricity has changed our imaging of light. Electricity has filled our world (and the sky and our eyes) with light, so we forget what a room with a single lit candle/lamp looks like – it is obvious what the source of the light is. The darkness is all around but the source of light stands against the darkness, driving it back yet still the darkness (the absence of light) is obvious. On the other hand, when we flick a switch the light instantly fills every nook and cranny, banishing and vanquishing all darkness. The darkness vanishes yet our eyes are not attracted to the source of light for the light seems to be everywhere.
St. John says in his Gospel:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
His imagery is much more like the candle standing against the darkness, for the darkness still surrounds the light, even if pushed back to the outer edges away from the source of light.
“And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)
You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.