Lamp, Light and God

Jesus refers to the church as a lamp:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Elsewhere, he brings the lamp imagery into other metaphors (Matthew 25, Luke 12), but it is the apostle John who takes the image of a lamp and runs with it.

John borrows the imagery of the prophets (Zechariah 4) and sees the churches as lamp stands, possibly the lamps of the temple Menorah (Revelation 2). As the Lord reveals his letters to these churches, he reminds them that their light can be snuffed out (Revelation 2:5).

The New Testament writers mix their metaphors because while we are called a light, it is pretty obvious that the true light is God himself (James 1:7, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 22:5). There is something deep and true there.

A Little Science

Light cannot exist without a source. Thanks to the work of Max Plank and myriad others who developed the quantum theory of light, we now know that light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Without getting into too much craziness, light is emitted by atoms when their electrons jump from orbit to orbit (technically called “shells”).

Human eyes happen to be sensitive to a limited bandwidth of the EM spectrum (390-750 nm wavelengths), but there is actually a much broader range of radiation that we cannot perceive visually. We do experience the infrared spectrum (750nm-1mm) as the phenomenon we call heat, but most of the EM spectrum is imperceptible to humans. It is a good thing too since you are bombarded with a lot of EM radiation. Cellphones, television signals, and GPS signals are all sent using EM in the radio spectrum (1mm-1Em). Even the residual energy from the origin of the universe hits you as radio waves, having traveled billions upon billions upon billions of kilometers just to pass through you.

A Little Reflection

Light is fascinatingly simple. At the experiential level, it serves to reveal things to us. Some of it bounces off objects, and some of it is absorbed. The light that bounces off is received by our eyes and interpreted by our brains as colors. The experience of color is actually something that occurs in our minds and is not actually a state of the object. Animals with different kinds of eyes and brains perceive objects different than we humans do.

All light is, whether it comes from the sun or a lamp, works the same way. What we see is only part of what there is. There is so much more going on. As the church, this should be true of us as we go though the world. There should be far more to us than just what is visible. The supernatural power of the Spirit animates us and broadens us beyond what we can perceive.

Just something to consider.


I used a lot of metric abbreviations in this post, and these can be confusing to people who are used to using imperial measurements (feet and inches). A meter is a little longer than a yard (actually 39.37) and then each of the metric prefixes indicate a power of ten.

SI multiples for metre (m)
Submultiples Multiples
Value Symbol Name Value Symbol Name
10−1 m dm decimetre 101 m dam decametre
10−2 m cm centimetre 102 m hm hectometre
10−3 m mm millimetre 103 m km kilometre
10−6 m µm micrometre 106 m Mm megametre
10−9 m nm nanometre 109 m Gm gigametre
10−12 m pm picometre 1012 m Tm terametre
10−15 m fm femtometre 1015 m Pm petametre
10−18 m am attometre 1018 m Em exametre
10−21 m zm zeptometre 1021 m Zm zettametre
10−24 m ym yoctometre 1024 m Ym yottametre
Common prefixed units are in bold face.

Some of these measurements are difficult to comprehend, particularly in the very large and very small.

A yottameter is 1.0 x 1024 meters – that’s a 1 followed by 24 zeroes. A yottameter is 110 MILLION lightyears. The only thing you can measure in yottameters is the universe itself, and that scale distance and time actually become one. (Cosmologists estimate that the distance to the cosmological event horizon or the theoretical beginning of the universe is 590 Ym.)

By contrast, a yoctometre is actually defined as 1/100th of the diameter of an electron. It is small on a scale that we simply cannot comprehend. at the ym scale, mass and energy become virtually indistinguishable.

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