Great artists know that amazing art is a dance between shadow and light. This is externally true for photography, fine art, music, sport, business, and politics. It’s also internally true for each one of us.
We all have a shadow inside us…because we have light inside.
A shadow is two dimensional. It takes the form of that which is real and perfectly mimics it, but is itself unconscious and not ultimately real. Our shadow disappears in darkness because like all darkness it’s compose of non-light, or nothing. Shadow is the nothing that wants to be something. It’s the false self that cannot stand the light of truth. The smallest amount of illumination exposes our shadow which shrinks as our brightness increases. Eradicating our shadow self is simply not possible so long as we desire the light that makes our shadow visible in the first place.
Like a good painting, a beautiful life is the dance or interplay between shadow and light. Every world religion has a name for our shadow be it sin, maya, Mara, Satan, Pesha, or zui. Each tradition also has a recipe for its extraction, extermination, eradication, or victory over it. Nearly all belief systems fall into one side of a binary framework: either our sins make us into sinners, or we sin because we are first sinners. No matter how elaborate we make our sin management system, this binary framework always serves those in power because it inevitably requires the herd to look toward the institution for a tune up, lest we be overcome by darkness and perish.
What if there was another way to see this?
I’ve proven in this series that the Gospel is a third way, or ternary, or trinitarian perspective which changes everything. This can be really hard to grasp if we are stuck in a binary (either/or) way of thinking. The light of reality is fashioned to a dimmer switch. Because of these frameworks, we fail not despite our best efforts, but because of them.
For example: The modern notion of Christianity sees people as either totally depraved or at least possessing a sin nature that offends God. The offense is removed by the work of Jesus and only transferred to those who believe in this substitutionary work, at which point, a believer becomes a child of God and the sin debt is removed. Of course the whole world can see that the sin itself is not actually removed, only the “one-day” punishment for it. This creates what I call “Shampoo Christianity” where the believer is perpetually trying to be forgiven for the sin that recurs or is never removed. Church has become our weekly bath. This scenario is similar in Islam, Judaism, and other world religions, though the mechanism of the shampoo is different.
The Gospel offers something different. It frees us from spinning around on the “sin cycle” of religion’s purification machines. Paul has shown us that the work of Christ (revealed in Jesus but sometimes in other ways) has freed us from any gap (justification) that could exist between ourselves and our Maker. This gospel frees us not only from external institutional power and religious obligations, but from the inside from what Paul calls our flesh (sarkōs). Paul isn’t just referring to our physical bodies in a Platonic way. He’s referring to our creaturely nature. Our flesh (shadow) does not separate God from us, it makes us want to separate from God (even though its not possible). Kierkegaard would say that Shadow is the refusal to be ourself before God. We are like a dog pulling on a leash.
“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:20)
I’ve shown how the gospel frees us from religious practice (Galatians 5:6), and how we actually possess the internal freedom to overcome our shadow if we actually want to. In fact, Paul says that if we look to the institutional process for freedom rather than do the soul work inside, then we have fallen from grace and are severed from Christ (Galatians 5:4). He’s not mincing words.
The shadow is not removed from our humanity because it is beautiful and necessary. It allows us to find our bearings. It remains with us because God is ultimately more glorified by our struggle with our shadow than by the removal of it. It keeps us humble and is something all humanity shares in common. Faith working through love then is all about our personal freedom. Freedom to walk right out of our three-sided prisons, or freedom to cling tight and live in a cage. Freedom to abstain or freedom to indulge, both with the knowledge of what each choice brings to our lives. Faith working through love means that we have one law (that of love) and not many laws to obey. Whether this takes place depends entirely upon the maturity we possess through the dance of shadow and light.
Wisdom and maturity comes from good judgement (awareness, enlightenment, salvation), good judgment (light) comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement (shadow). Freedom is the means to more freedom. Like captivity, freedom is potentiated unto itself by how we dance. “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13) The dance is the design. Freedom has shadow always within sight. It’s the reminder that the divine (Spirit) and the human (Flesh) coexist within each of us. It is the indelible imprint of the Christ mystery (Word becomes Flesh-John 1:14) tattooed upon every human soul so that none of us can miss it.
The goal of religion is to get us out of our bodies in order to one day live in another place. But the gospel’s goal is to put us back into our bodies with the ability to live from another place. We each possess a body with an indwelling spirit of light. In that sense, we are all microcosms of the incarnation of Christ, but we must learn the interplay or dance of our light and shadow, and we’ll explore that next week when we learn the difference between desire and over-desire. I hope you’ll come back.