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“The Father of lights”—that is your name,

A blinding brilliance among heavenly hosts,

For even angels with wings of flame

Can’t stare at Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Who is God? No question could run deeper, span wider, or coast longer on the words of men. There’s a rich deposit in Scripture of proper names and images. But let’s focus and just consider God as light, or as James called him, “the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

Light is closely associated with that old word “glory.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (2.2) says, “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them.” 

That may sound stiff to today’s ears—with all those “haths” and “untos.” But think of it this way: God is the great, steadfast, immoveable light that shines behind and through this world. He is radiant. And that radiance touches everything, including you and me.

God is the great, steadfast, immoveable light that shines behind and through this world.

The Nicene Creed calls Jesus Christ “God of God, Light of Light” because his brilliance as the eternal Son matches the blinding radiance of the Father and Spirit.

This radiant God has filled the whole world with his light. In John Calvin’s words, “Whichever way we turn our eyes, there is no part of the world, however small, in which at least some spark of God’s glory does not shine. In particular, we cannot gaze at this beautiful masterpiece of the world, in all its length and breadth, without being completely dazed, as it were, by an endless flood of light.”[1] An endless flood of light—that’s the God who stands behind the world we wake to. And yet you and I don’t wake up blinded. Why?

God is a Spirit (John 4:24). We can’t see spirits. So, while the God of radiance is blindingly bright, we walk through the world by faith in that light, believing that the Father of lights illumines all the things around us. Bavinck wrote, “The spirituality of God refers to that perfection of God that describes him, negatively, as being immaterial and invisible, analogously to the spirit of angels and the souls of humans; and, positively, as the hidden, simple (uncompounded), absolute ground of all creatural, somatic, and pneumatic being.”[2] Now that’s a mouthful! Even my favorite theologians struggle to keep things “on the bottom shelf,” as my mother used to say. Bavinck is just trying to say that God as a Spirit is invisible and yet upholds everything we see. We might think of God as the light behind all earthly lights.[3]

And because of that behindness, because the Father of lights is hidden, we can be tempted to think he isn’t really here. That, I argue in another book, is Satan’s great lie, the lie that tells us to live as if God weren’t really present.[4] The great truth is that God is always present; he’s always the Light behind all lesser lights. Our awareness of him is a matter of Spirit-gifted faith, a certainty in what we cannot see (Heb. 11:1).

What It Means

But what, more specifically, does it mean to say that God is light? Though there are many things to discuss, let’s break our answer down into three qualities: truth, warmth (love), and beauty.

Truth. The radiance of God lets us see what is, what’s real. Just as a light in a darkened room shows us what’s there, God shows us the furniture of life: who we are, what matters most, what we should strive for. Bavinck writes, “Light in Scripture is the image of truth, holiness, and blessedness (Ps. 43:3; Isa. 10:17; Ps. 97:11).”[5] God shines to show us what is true, sacred, and good. Elsewhere he says, “What light is in the natural world—the source of knowledge, purity, and joy—God is in the world of the spirit.”[6] God is the light of truth, the one who shows us all, because he is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). He helps us see what’s around us, as well as our true spiritual condition. I’ve always loved how Charles Wesley expressed this in the great hymn “And Can It Be,”

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free;

I rose, went forth and followed Thee. 

The dungeon flamed with light points both to where our spirits are in the grips of sin, and also to the saving presence of God that calls us forward into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). God, as true light, shows us who and where we really are.

Just as a light in a darkened room shows us what’s there, God shows us the furniture of life: who we are, what matters most, what we should strive for.

Warmth. As light brings heat, warming the blood within birds and the chlorophyll in praying blades of grass, God as the Father of light warms us in his love. And we desperately want that, don’t we? Rich Villodas writes, “The fractures within and around us don’t feel right because our souls desire bonds of belonging and belovedness.”[7] We want belovedness. We want God’s love. The love of God is the beating heart of everything. It’s God’s identity, our highest calling, and the power beneath every mountain range and rolling sea. Robert Letham links this especially to God’s trinitarian nature—three persons in eternal, loving relationship. “The Trinity means love is at the heart of the cosmos that God made. It is not a cold, heartless universe of pointlessness and futility, but it has a purpose that God has designed for it from eternity. Since God is personal, he is love, the living God, for life and love go together.”[8]

Life and love go together—because that’s who God is. His warmth of love does more than give us a purpose; it changes us. Writing of Romans 8:29, John Murray says, “God’s love is not passive emotion; it is active volition and it moves determinatively to nothing less than the highest goal conceivable for his adopted children, conformity to the image of the only-begotten Son.”[9] The warmth of God’s love changes us, as sunlight melting ice, shaping us to God himself. If the truth of God helps us see who and where we are, the warmth of God swells our hearts with praise and love. And so we do as George Herbert directs,

All knees shall bow to thee; all wits shall rise,

And praise him who did make and mend our eyes.[10]

The warmth of God’s love changes us, as sunlight melting ice, shaping us to God himself.

Beauty. God as light gives us truth. And he gives us the warmth of his self-conforming love. But he is also the most beautiful and the source of all the beauty we see around us. That God is the most beautiful might not strike us as clearly biblical in terms of the language, but “for the beauty of God Scripture has a special word: glory.”[11] In fact, Scripture harps on God’s glory so much that we must say God is “the pinnacle of beauty, the beauty toward which all creatures point.”[12] Every instance of beauty around us is an index finger pointing to God. Ignoring creaturely manifestations of beauty thus amounts to ignoring the beauty of God. One author wrote, “If the beauty within creation points us to the beautiful one, then when we fail to behold and respond to that beauty, we hide ourselves from him.”[13] And the beauty of God burns most luminously when we understand that life is not about us seeking him out but about him seeking us out. This is what God does in Christ. “Christ is the answer to the desires which emerge from our deepest parts. We long for beauty because we long for the one who is the source of beauty and who calls us back to life through the means of beauty in our lives.”[14]

An Example of God’s Overwhelming Beauty

Let me offer an example. In the fading daylight of a late October afternoon, I drove to Hamilton’s, an apple orchard a few miles from our home. Winding my car around the bends and curves of farming fields, I was rushing. Hamilton’s closed at 4:00pm. It was 3:40pm. After that day, they would be closed for the season. 

I sped down their little driveway and rolled across the parking field, soaked in golden sunlight. I sprinted to the stand, looking for pre-picked apples. They had none. I’d have to pick my own in five minutes flat. So, I wheeled my basket right to the rows for golden delicious—23 and 24—and started picking like a madman, hugging the apples off the trees in bunches.

How many miracles had my tires tread over and my feet stomped on so far? Probably billions—caterpillars trekking over the pavement on a perilous journey to the world across a giant “noise path”; bees woken by an unexpected warmth from the great golden orb; resilient blades of grass seeming to lose everything as I crushed them, only to rise again like Job from the whirlwind. Most miracles of beauty are trampled. We go too fast to notice them.

But there was this moment when God seemed to pause time. Pushing through several branches to get at an apple toward the top of a tree, I plucked it from the stem as the sun poured in all around my hands. The pulling released a tiny cloud of pollen, drifting into the light in a dazed dance. The particles were so effortless, these tiny sails for sunlight, swirling my right hand like a song. And I stopped. I stopped because I was overwhelmed with beauty, enraptured by the gardening God who drew my too-frenzied eyes to this little orchestra of dust, this infinitesimal suite of dancers, content to float and twirl and then settle back onto the leaves and branches . . . a song of golden smoke.

What sort of God is this, who makes a billion miracles, knowing we may only trip over one? Who sheds the trees of their colored hands after hearing a thousand ovations from the canopy? Who gives all and seems to ask so little in return? 

A God of grace and golden apples,

A king of light and trees and flowers,

Who makes the pollen dust his chapels

To fill with songs of daylight hours.

Your beauty is too great to gather.

As we rush through the pulsing wild,

Ignoring all, why would you rather

Give us more than make us mild?

Pause the world. Let turning stop.

Halt rash feet and fumbling fingers.

Instead of deluge, give one drop,

And slow our hearts to let it linger.

God as light is the giver of truth, love, and beauty. This is the one in whose image we are made. At our best, we are “illuminated images, made to reflect the divine light of Jesus to a world in need, acting as sacred depictions of God’s love which might redirect longing eyes toward the fulfillment of their desires in him.”[15]

May the God of light flood you with truth, love, and beauty this day, and give you the eyes to see him, to be wondrously blinded by him, to be moved to worship.


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Notes

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Translated from the First French Edition of 1541, trans. Robert White (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014), 10.

[2] Herman Bavinck, God and Creation, vol. 2 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 186.

[3] See chapter 5 in Finding God in the Ordinary (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018).

[4] The Great Lie: What All of Hell Wants You to Keep Believing (Independently published, 2022).

[5] Bavinck, God and Creation, 252.

[6] Bavinck, God and Creation, 253.

[7] Rich Villodas, Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2022), xx.

[8] Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 128.

[9] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2022), 306.

[10] These lines come from his poem “Love II.”

[11] Bavinck, God and Creation, 254.

[12] Bavinck, God and Creation, 254.

[13] Joel Clarkson, Sensing God: Experiencing the Divine Nature in Food, Music, and Beauty (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2021), 26.

[14] Clarkson, Sensing God, 26.

[15] Clarkson, Sensing God, 122.

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