“In Thy Light” May Be More About Love than Knowledge

When we each started our work as university pastors at Valpo, we received the university motto “EN LUCE TUA VIDEMUS LUCEM“ – “In Thy Light, We See Light“ as primarily an assertion that God is the source of truth. After all, the search for truth is at the center of the educational enterprise and it makes sense that for a university in the Lutheran Christian faith tradition, claims about truth and what is true would all be wrapped up in claims about divine authority. There is certainly no shortage of places in the Bible that concern themselves with truth, wisdom, and knowledge. Jesus himself claims to be the truth (John 14:6).

The challenge is that in a diverse community of learning like ours there are bound to be differences of perspective when it comes to truth claims. When we get into it, we may even question the possibility of anything like absolute, objective truth. When we get into philosophical tight spots like this, one strategy is to retreat to more comfortable places. We say it’s more important to ask good questions than have the right answers. We propose that everyone’s grasp of the truth is only provisional and constantly subject to testing and revision. We allow that in an age in which opinion seems to rule, everyone is entitled to hold “their own truth.”

But what if our imagination about light has been too small? What if our post-enlightenment assumptions that “light“ is obviously about “enlightenment” (which is simply another word for knowledge and truth) are wrong? Is it possible that we have set out on the wrong path? 

This is what the two of us have been wondering when we look at the big white Latin words that run down the center of the Chapel’s luminous windows. What is “THY LIGHT“ anyway?

Valpo’s motto is a line from a psalm. Psalms are songs. The book of Psalms in the Bible is an ancient and insightful songbook that provides lyrics that cover every emotion: joy and sorrow, compassion and anger, trust and doubt. By tradition, the Psalms are numbered. “THY LIGHT“ shows up in Psalm 36. It’s not a long song; here’s the whole thing.

It starts out kind of intensely with a complaint about people who have stopped acting wisely and doing good and all of the trouble that this causes.

1 There is a voice of rebellion deep in the heart of the wicked;

there is no fear of God before their eyes.

2 They flatter themselves in their own eyes

that their hateful sin will not be found out.

3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;

they have stopped acting wisely and doing good.

4 They plot wickedness upon their beds and have set themselves in a way that is not good;

they do not abhor that which is evil.

And then the psalm makes a turn toward the nature of divine love. It’s quite a contrast.

5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,

and your faithfulness to the clouds.

6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep;

you save humankind and animals, O Lord.

7 How priceless is your love, O God!

All people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast upon the abundance of your house;

you give them drink from the river of your delights.

9 For with you is the well of life,

and in your light we see light.

10 Continue your lovingkindness to those who know you,

and your favor to those who are true of heart.

God’s love is described in rich variety. It reaches the heavens (v.5). It is priceless (v.7). It goes on and on without stopping (v.10).

But that is not all! Because Hebrew poetry trades on repeating the same idea through varied expression, we can see that when other characteristics of God are named, they are also intended as ways of describing God‘s love. God’s love for all people is strong righteousness and deep justice (v.6). It is a refuge (v.7). It is like an abundant feast and a thirst quenching river (v.8). God’s love is the source of life (v.9). The opening verses of the Gospel according to John pick up on this describing Jesus, the one whose self-sacrificing life is the fullest expression of divine love, “In him was life and that life with the light of all people.” (John 1:4)

The psalm ends by turning our attention back to situations and circumstances where things are not as they should be. Having meditated on the nature of divine love, which is like light, the poet expresses their desire to stay away from all which is not light:

11 Let not the foot of the proud come near me,

nor the hand of the wicked push me aside.

12 See how they are fallen, those who work wickedness!

They are cast down and shall not be able to rise.

There is certainly knowledge and wisdom and truth in love, but love is not reducible to our knowledge and truth claims, even in our own imperfect efforts to be loving.  

This is the best center for our life together. This is real enlightenment.

Live in light and love,

Pr. Kate & Pr. Jim

Aug. 16, 2023

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.