Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
— Gen 1:3-4, NRSV
It is impossible for me to imagine the creation of light (maybe Carl Sagan could, but I cannot). As a sighted person, I take it for granted as part of the bedrock of lived existence. Yet in the creation story, light was the first priority of creation as God spoke into a primordial chaos shrouded in darkness.
The fourth gospel teaches that the pre-incarnate Jesus, the eternal Word, was God’s agent in creation, and that in him was life and light:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)
But Paul takes this even further:
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6, NRSV)
Later in his letter (5:17), Paul will explicitly use the language of “new creation” to talk about what God has done in and through Jesus. But surely he already has that idea in mind here, a mash-up of Genesis and the messianic prophecies of Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness —
on them light has shined. (Isa 9:2, NRSV)
Paul’s reference to light and creation is more than just a metaphor; he is not just saying, “Through Jesus, we gain enlightenment.” That might be something his gnostically-oriented detractors in Corinth might say, perhaps, but Paul’s meaning is deeper.
As he has already suggested in chapter 3, in our spiritually darkened state, in our blindness, we cannot behold the light of God’s glory and live. But that’s not the end of the story. As Jesus was God’s agent in creation, so too was he God’s agent in a stunning new creation. And in that new creation, God’s light shines directly into the most shadowy places of our hearts, that we might look upon Jesus and know the truth — this is the face of the glory of the living God.
The creation of light may be unimaginable, but God in mercy has made it possible for us to behold the light of new creation in Christ.
And it is no less wondrous.