Light and the Pursuit of Truth

While reading1 "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood" by George MacDonald, I was struck by his description of seeking the truth as living in the light — the sunlight — in the twenty-fourth chapter, "Failure." MacDonald can always be found embedding nuggets of nonfiction-like discussions in the midst of a good fictional story. It's one of the reasons I enjoy his fiction so much.

What follows is the relevant quote from "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood," as well as a related quote from a nonfiction essay, "Light," from his "Unspoken Sermons, Third Series."

At length I came in sight of the keeper's farm; and just at that moment the moon peeped from behind a hill, throwing as long shadows as the setting sun, but in the other direction. The shadows were very different too. Somehow they were liker to the light that made them than the sun-shadows are to the sunlight. Both the light and the shadows of the moon were strange and fearful to me. The sunlight and its shadows are all so strong and so real and so friendly, you seem to know all about them; they belong to your house, and they sweep all fear and dismay out of honest people's hearts. But with the moon and its shadows it is very different indeed. The fact is, the moon is trying to do what she cannot do. She is trying to dispel a great sun-shadow — for the night is just the gathering into one mass of all the shadows of the sun. She is not able for this, for her light is not her own; it is second-hand from the sun himself; and her shadows therefore also are second-hand shadows, pieces cut out of the great sun-shadow, and coloured a little with the moon's yellowness. If I were writing for grown people I should tell them that those who understand things because they think about them, and ask God to teach them, walk in the sunlight; and others, who take things because other people tell them so, are always walking in the strange moonlight, and are subject to no end of stumbles and terrors, for they hardly know light from darkness.
from Chapter 24 of "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood" by George MacDonald
"This then is the message," he says, "which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." [1 John 1:5]... Whatever seems to me darkness, that I will not believe of my God. If I should mistake, and call that darkness which is light, will he not reveal the matter to me, setting it in the light that lighteth every man, showing me that I saw but the husk of the thing, not the kernel? Will he not break open the shell for me, and let the truth of it, his thought, stream out upon me? He will not let it hurt me to mistake the light for darkness, while I take not the darkness for light. The one comes from blindness of the intellect, the other from blindness of heart and will. I love the light, and will not believe at the word of any man, or upon the conviction of any man, that that which seems to me darkness is in God....

Neither let thy cowardly conscience receive any word as light because another calls it light, while it looks to thee dark. Say either the thing is not what it seems, or God never said or did it. But, of all evils, to misinterpret what God does, and then say the thing as interpreted must be right because God does it, is of the devil. Do not try to believe anything that affects thee as darkness. Even if thou mistake and refuse something true thereby, thou wilt do less wrong to Christ by such a refusal than thou wouldst by accepting as his what thou canst see only as darkness. It is impossible thou art seeing a true, a real thing — seeing it as it is, I mean — if it looks to thee darkness. But let thy words be few, lest thou say with thy tongue what thou wilt afterward repent with thy heart. Above all things believe in the light, that it is what thou callest light, though the darkness in thee may give thee cause at a time to doubt whether thou art verily seeing the light.
from "Light" in "Unspoken Sermons, Third Series" by George MacDonald

1  Technically, I was listening to an audiobook version from To see how I am progressing in "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood" and, when I'm finished, my review of the book, please click here.

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  1. Anonymous Sun Apr 26, 08:24:00 AM EDT

    Haven't read much George MacDonald, but after reading your posts on him, I'm going to. Of course, he was also inspiration that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien drew on, both favorites of mine. I believe Lewis said that reading MacDonald "baptized his imagination" or something similar -- pretty strong endorsement considering the source.

    So, MacDonald is now my next read.