Flannery O’Connor was a brilliant fiction writer. She was also Catholic and deeply committed to Scripture. Though her fiction is often dark and disturbing, she insisted that it flowed out of her belief in Christian truth. How did she explain this? By appealing to Jesus as the light of the world. As a fiction writer, she said,
“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”
This line of thinking is so profound for thinking through the kind of art we make as Christians. But I also believe that it extends much farther than that. If Jesus is the light of the world, then he illuminates everything we see. We simply cannot see anything without him. The objects around you are not the light, but you cannot see them apart from the light.
Sometimes as Christians we get that idea that we must only be looking at Jesus, as though our books must be Christian, our music and movies must be Christian, our clothing must be Christian, our jobs and our cars and our friends must be Christian. But the reality that Jesus is the light of the world gives us another way to view the world. It’s not that everything we view will have the face of Jesus painted onto it, but everything we see will be seen in the light of Jesus.
If you’re a Christian plumber, for example, your job is not necessarily to install Christian pipeworks, adding as many cross-shaped pipe junctions as you can, thinking that this is what it means to be a Christian plumber. If you’re a Christian police officer, your Christianity does not mean that you will sneak in the Apostles’ Creed every time you read a criminal his rights. If you’re a Christian salesman, your Christianity will not mean swapping out the items your customers order with a New Testament, saying “They don’t really know what they want, this will do them eternal good.”
This is not what it means to bear witness to the light of the world. Jesus is the light of the world, so everything we see will be painted in his light. Jesus doesn’t want us engaged in “religious” activities every moment of every day.
He wants the plumbers among us to see their plumbing in light of who he is. So they will be hardworking, fair, gracious, and they will honor God with their work. Our Christian policeman will see God’s image stamped on every victim and every criminal they encounter. They will uphold God’s justice, and also love his mercy. Our Christian salespeople will see their wares and their customers in light of Jesus. They will temper their healthy desire for profit with the best interests of their customers, considering the ways that grace, truth, and the biblical definition of the good life affects their product, their approach to sales, and the way they treat their customers.
Jesus is the light of the world. He’s more than a message we proclaim. He also provides the illumination through which we view every aspect of our existence. As Christians, we should encounter nothing that we do not view in light of Jesus. As the light of the world, he is our interpretive grid for everything.