I began a devotional today called “HIStory,” which is a six-week devotional through the Gospel According to John. I’ve always loved this Gospel because, of all of the Apostles, I think John would have been a great poet or lyricist for a band.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5.
I can picture the opening of his gospel being sung in musical form by some progressive rock band from the late 60’s and early 70’s.
But one thing I’ve always wondered about the word used in verse 5. The ESV translation that I am fond of using says the darkness has not “overcome it.” Other translations are different. In the New American Standard Bible, the darkness did not “comprehend it.” In the American Standard Version, the darkness “apprehended it not.” The New Living Translation has my favorite: the darkness “can never extinguish it.”
So what is this word? I have consulted some commentaries on this but, to be honest with you, I cannot understand what is being said. Translating the true meaning of a word from one language to another is a delicate business in these times. Translating ancient text appears to require a lot of heavy lifting that this young Christian is not ready for yet. Somewhere down the road, perhaps, if the Lord wills it.
I don’t want to sound nit-picky at all when it comes to what John 1:5 is saying. But I will tell you why I love the NLT version.
As a rebel sinner brought into the family of God for reasons only known to Him (it certainly has nothing to do with my upstanding moral character or any good choices I made), I have switched sides in a spiritual battle. I turned my back on a life of sin that I loved before Jesus, to paraphrase Ezekiel 36:26, traded my heart of stone for a heart of flesh.
For someone like me who has given Christ the throne despite the fact that I am not a trusting person by nature, I need constant assurance of God’s inevitable victory. I don’t care what the darkness comprehends or apprehends. I want it defeated- especially the darkness that lives within me. I need to know, especially in these troubled times, that God not only knows what is going on but is on the move in the middle of it completely unphased by the slings and arrows of human beings. I have to know that all of the darkness of the world (and Heaven knows that you can turn on the 24-hour news outlets or read social media for five minutes and see one hideous example after another of it) will not extinguish the light of Jesus.
It’s not that I think those other words are wrong. Certainly, we who love living in the filth that our sin produces like one of those people on the TV show “Hoarders” cannot comprehend it or understand it when someone shows up with a roll-on dumpster and cleaning supplies.
But I like the darkness cannot “extinguish” the light for a more personal reason. I’m thinking back to those early days of my life when I thought my father (may he rest in peace) could do anything and everything. I had that understanding that my father could protect me and keep the bad things away from me. Life and experience revealed that my father was a human being with some great aspects to him and some that were not so great (I am sure my son experienced this with me at some point).
For the longest time, I wanted my dad to be perfect. Those were misplaced feelings on my part since my father (like everyone else on earth) could not be perfect if he tried. But as I sit here typing this I think that those desires were natural. I’m thinking they were put into my by The Holy Spirit with the intention that I aim that feeling that “my dad can do anything” and aim it right at God.
I believe my Father in Heaven can do the impossible. The Holy Spirit has already done the impossible by penetrating the light that is Jesus into the darkness that was my existence. And even though my darkness was vast and seemingly impenetrable, it did not extinguish the light of Jesus. And it is the Lord who is my protector, defender, comforter, and all of the things I first thought my father could do.
The darkness cannot extinguish the light of Christ.
And for that, all I can say is Amen.