You are the light of the world
So why is your world so gray?
— Jonathan Richman

Every now and then we experience something that escapes analysis. A miracle, if you will. Epiphanies often come on the heels of an experience that takes us out of our mundane day-to-day. Be they joyous or tragic, these moments help us to feel the weight and urgency of life. To experience them in perpetuity would be too much for anyone to bear — like staring into the sun for more than a moment — but they serve a purpose in heightening the senses. In these moments of the miraculous, talk is cheap. Words often fail.

Shortly after having his first baby, a poet friend of mine was describing fatherhood. He’s a gifted writer so I was expecting him to say something profound about the circle of life, but he offered nothing of the sort. “Not everything has to be a metaphor,” he said. His point was that a baby can be a wonder in and of itself. You can’t extract anything more from it. Its eyes opening, its neck craning, its brow furrowing was meaningful enough. No further commentary needed.

There’s a scene in C. S. Lewis’ brilliant novel The Great Divorce in which the narrator encounters two characters — one, a gray ghost, someone who has died but has yet to accept the terms and conditions of Heaven, and the other, a shining figure who has been transformed into a divine version of his earthly self. The gray ghost is an intellectual. He is cultured, dignified, and well-read. In response to everything the shining figure has to say about the afterlife, he offers a philosophical quip or some highbrow jargon. “Well, this is extremely interesting,” he says. “It’s a point of view. Certainly, it’s a point of view. In the meantime …” Finally, the shining figure intervenes:

“There is no meantime! All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past (your past and mine) only in order that you may turn from it forever. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as if nothing had ever gone wrong. White as snow. It’s all true, you know. You have seen Hell: you are in the sight of Heaven. Will you, even now, repent and believe?”

“I’m not sure that I’ve got the exact point you are trying to make,” said the ghost.

“I am not trying to make any point,” said the Spirit. “I am telling you to repent and believe!”

The Spirit offers no roundtable discussion, no FAQ tab, no qualifiers. “I will bring you to the land not of questions, but of answers,” he tells the ghost. “And you shall see the face of God.”

I should add that C. S. Lewis makes it clear that this character happens to be an Episcopalian. Being the intellectual that he was, I wonder if he was from Charlottesville, Virginia. He sounds like someone I know. He probably reads the New Yorker. The cerebral, navel-gazing verbiage of the gray ghost is all-too-familiar in my own life.

Theorizing the gospel isn’t morally wrong, but it can often distract from the real matter at hand. To our detriment, we clothe the mind as much as we do the body. Not only do we prefer to be the gray ghost rather than the shining figure, but we often have little choice over the matter. The mirror in which we see darkly has a tendency to make everything look gray. It’s tempting to play the role of the curious agnostic, eternally debating whether or not something is true. The physiologist Claude Bernard once said, “The investigator should have a robust faith — and yet not believe.” It may, in fact, be easier to only believe in what you fully understand. But hoping to understand what you believe proves more rewarding. After all, the truth is indifferent toward whether or not you have the right words to describe it.

The gospel is news, not a philosophy. It is a fact rather than a point of debate. It is a person rather than an idea: a miraculous incursion of normalcy amid the chaos of life. Jesus is not a key that unlocks the door to enlightenment. He is the door! He is your justification. He is not a mere idea, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Ideas do not have the power to save us from sin and death. Ideas can be forgotten, ignored, misused, and misunderstood, fading into the gray of every other thought we come across.

The gospel is the sort of mystery that retains its power regardless of our comprehension. It is not a passing fad or a movement that will wane over time. It can withstand being talked about till you’re blue in the face. You may lose interest over time, but its truth will never be diminished.

Jesus was (and is) a miracle beyond the gray world of ideas. Amidst all of the attention The Jefferson Bible has been getting, James Parker’s earlier piece in the Atlantic stands out as a beautiful reminder of Jesus’ otherworldly qualities amidst his humanness. Christ is not only the friend of sinners, but a figure that cannot be pinned down by the philosophers and the moralists. His words and actions are not merely “interesting,” but completely confounding:

Personally, not being Thomas Jefferson, I need Jesus and his miracles and his divine nature — I need the celestial reverb that they give to his words. Mystery, wonder, confusion — they’re the essence. Like the yeast that leavens the bread, like the treasure buried in the field. Take a razor to that, and you’re in trouble.

There is a prayer from The Great Divorce which is apropos: “Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.” Thankfully, our prayer has already been answered in Jesus who — take heart! — has overcome the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. In a world of gray, the miracle of the gospel imbues life with radiant colors long enough for us to know that the world is more than grays and black. Rest assured, not only can we trust that Jesus himself will somehow shine through, we can have confidence that he already has.