True and False Enlightenment

Photo by Dhivakaran S on

Christians are called to be “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). “No man lights a candle, and puts it in a hidden place, nor under a bushel; but upon a candlestick, that they that come in, may see the light” (Lk. 11:33).

Just as Christ is himself “the true light, which enlightens every man that comes into this world” (Jn. 1:9), so is true enlightenment a way of life. When we follow Christ, the wholeness we enjoy radiates like a light pointing others to the path of true happiness.

In what does Christian enlightenment consist? One explanation involves a curious metaphor: “The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body will be lightsome; but if it be evil, thy body also will be darksome” (Lk. 11:34).

By referring to our bodily “eye” as “single,” our Lord reminds us that vision is paradoxical. Human beings are blessed with two eyes, each of which captures our physical environment from a slightly different angle. Only when the brain unites these two sources of light into a single vision are we able to see clearly. If, for any reason, our mind fails to harmonize these sets of data, binary vision becomes a source of confusion rather than depth perception.

Something similar applies in the spiritual life. As creatures composed of body and soul, as persons and members of society, and as denizens of an earthly city destined one day to pass into an eternal kingdom, human beings are often pulled in conflicting directions. We cannot resolve such tensions by rejecting one part of our nature in favor of another. Rather, we must integrate these components into a coherent and fulfilling way of life.

To make peace among the competing elements of our humanity requires an understanding of the role each plays in the rightful order of things. To follow Christ is to discipline the body for the benefit of the soul; to seek personal happiness as a contributor to the common good; and to live this life as a pilgrimage to the next.

The world, however, offers a competing way of reconciling our disparate longings. Ideologies masquerading as Enlightenment encourage us to prioritize the body over the soul, selfish desires over social responsibility, and earthly success over heavenly bliss.

Against such deceptions Christ warns us: “Take heed therefore, that the light which is in thee, be not darkness” (Lk. 11:35). Though we often fool ourselves by imagining that we will turn to the care of higher things after completing our earthly business, what happens instead is that the emptiness of our present endeavors drives us to ever more desperate—and futile—efforts. True happiness is the fruit of a single vision focused on the true good.

Only when we place every part of our nature in the service of God do we allow the truth to make us free (Jn. 8:32). “If then thy whole body be lightsome, having no part of darkness; the whole shall be lightsome; and as a bright lamp, shall enlighten thee” (Lk. 11:36).

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