Illumination

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Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105 (ESV)

What does it mean that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path? Does it serve as some sort of holy headlight so we can better see where we are going? To view it as such makes it an aid to our journey.

When we think of God’s word in this way, we tend to superimpose our experiences of nocturnal navigation. We picture driving on darkened highways at night with the assistance of our headlights showing us the pavement in front of us. That image is fine as far as it goes, but it gives us a false sense of the course of our lives. We do not always travel on such unobstructed routes.

A similar verse in the Psalms suggests a slightly different image.

For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness.

Psalm 18:28 (ESV)

Have you ever taken a tour of an underground cave? I have been on several over the years. Illumination is essential in these settings. Without it, you are trapped because you can see absolutely nothing around you in this strange setting. Perspective and distance are hard to judge underground even with some light.

Being underground on dangerous and uneven ground may be a better metaphor for our situation than cruising across the Great Plains on an interstate at night. But we can be lulled into thinking we are on straight and level ground without sufficient illumination.

This is why saints throughout the ages have practiced and advocated for rigorous self-examination and confession. Unless we are diligent in shining light—in allowing the light of the Holy Spirit—into the dark crevices of our hearts and minds, we may not recognize the peril we are in.

It is similar to medical imaging. Consider the benefits of mammograms and other diagnostic screenings which can detect cancer and other serious ailments early. They allow us to see things we could not otherwise perceive.

So to with the light of the Word. By holding our lives up to the Scriptures, we are able see that which may endanger us. By praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal our sins, we are seeking to root out those things which separate us from God.

Receiving illumination is not always a reassuring experience. Think of a movie where the protagonist strikes a light in some dark room or cave only to reveal the threat all around him, be it snakes, monsters, or a perilous precipice. The protagonist was usually more comfortable before he saw the threat surrounding him, but once he sees the situation for what it really is, and only then, can he begin to take action to counter that threat.

So it is with us. “Lord, show me my faults,” is not a comfortable prayer. But to live in darkness, unaware of the danger and terror lurking around us and seeking to destroy us, is a false comfort.

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