14 Christian Reflections on the Festival of Light - David Sorge

posted Nov 1, 2018, 3:36 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Nov 1, 2018, 3:36 AM ]
Diwali, the festival of light, is one with several stories attached to it. The most popular in the Hindu tradition is the story of the return of Rama, the king of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to his capital city after a 14-year exile and a war in which he defeated the demon-king Ravana, a story recorded in the epic poem, the Ramayana. It commemorates the people of Ayodhya, who lit oil lamps along the road to light the returning king's path in the darkness of a new moon night, and welcome them back, finally, to their home.

Given that Rama is very frequently identified with the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver, and his wife Sita with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, the holiday is as such devoted primarily to the worship of these deities. However, there is much in the imagery of Diwali that evokes the Bible's own imagery of light and darkness, and provides a fascinating and distinctly Indian frame for the master narrative of the Bible — the story of God redeeming humanity through the life and work of Jesus.

Like other religious traditions, the Bible is awash with metaphors of light and darkness, starting right from the very beginning. The first recorded act of God in the creation of the heavens and earth was to say, "Let there be light," and separate the light from the darkness. This is a uniquely appropriate beginning, as God created in order to show forth His own character and attributes (see Romans 1:20). First and foremost, light is a metaphor for God's own character. "God is light; in Him, there is no darkness at all." He is pure, beautiful, and the source of knowledge and truth. In fact, this aspect of God's character is a source of a radically God-centered epistemology — not "seeing is believing," but "In your light, we see light," in the words of Psalm 36:9.

Not only is light an expression of God's character, it also symbolises the Word of God in its other forms, particularly its written form. The author of the Bible's longest Psalm expresses it this way: "Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path." It is through the Word that we learn to distinguish good and evil, wisdom and folly, reality and illusion, falsehood and truth.