Often the importance of the Light of Christ is oversimplified when this unseen power is defined as a person’s conscience.
Have you ever pondered on what it will be like to meet the Savior? What setting do you picture at this thought? Will you embrace him or fall at his feet? Perhaps if one hundred people were asked these questions there would be one hundred different scenes painted of that reunion. For me, when I close my eyes, clear the canvas of my mind, and conjure an image of Christ, it is nearly always the same: a white robe, glorious brightness shining all around, a smiling face, and always, always outstretched arms.1 The scriptures are replete with imagery related to the Lord’s “arms of mercy” (Mosiah 16:12 and Alma 5:33) being extended toward us—a gesture that signifies Christ’s great, inviting love for his children.
We are given numerous examples in the scriptures of meetings others have had with the Savior. These span from visions of his premortal spirit to meetings during his mortal ministry and, finally, to visitations from the resurrected Christ. There’s the brother of Jared’s faith-prompted vision of the premortal Jesus (see Ether 3:6–13), Peter and the sons of Zebedee being called by the Master to leave their nets and follow him (see Matthew 4:18–22), and Mary Magdalene’s tender visit from the resurrected Lord at his empty tomb (see John 20:11–18). Thinking of ourselves in similar situations can help with visualizing our own personal reunion with the Master.
There is one particular meeting that has always especially touched me. As recorded in John 9, it is the story of a man that was blind from birth and who, on the Sabbath day, is healed by Jesus. Of all the miracles and magnificent experiences that happened in the Savior’s mortal ministry, this particular encounter has several unique aspects. First, it is rare for a single story to encompass an entire chapter in one of the Gospels; yet, this specific healing experience takes up the entire ninth chapter of John. Key doctrines are taught or implied, including the reality of premortal existence, confirmation of agency, and clarification of proper worship on the Sabbath day. Yet it’s not just these distinctive qualities and doctrinal teachings that make this story so compelling; rather, it is the touching faith and courage of the healed man leading up to his meeting with Christ at the end of the chapter.
Immediately prior to healing the blind man, Jesus taught his disciples, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5; emphasis added). He then anointed the eyes of the man with clay and instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man followed the Lord’s instructions and was healed. What followed for this man provides a type for many of the experiences we may have in our lives once we choose to embrace the Lord’s light.
I’d like to delve deeper into the Savior’s teaching that He is “the light of the world” (John 9:5). Light interacts with our souls, it is radiated and sensed, and spiritual light can be discerned through believing and exercising faith. In all, the source of that light has been indicated as the Light of Christ. What is the Light of Christ? How is the Light of Christ related to Christ himself? What is the ultimate purpose of light?
The Source of All Light
All forms of energy must have a source. This scientific law of the universe is well supported by our belief that you cannot create something from nothing (often termed ex nihilo, which is Latin for “out of nothing”) and that all things come from previously existing constituents. Hence, light is generated from some source. This is also related to the fact that light is a wave, which means it is always in motion. Waves cannot be stored, whether they are of light, ocean water, sound, or anything else.
When considering spiritual light, this scientific reality—that light cannot be stored—becomes of great significance. Since light must be generated from a source, even spiritual light that radiates from (and is within) us must come from a light source. That source, whether it be within us or at some place at the center of the universe, is the Light of Christ.
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Jesus declared, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:2). Often the importance of the Light of Christ is oversimplified when this unseen power is defined as a person’s conscience. While there is scriptural support that the Light of Christ aids us in the determination of right versus wrong, it is also clear that such light is intended to lead one to the gospel, wherein the more constant guidance from the Holy Ghost can be obtained.
The importance and power of the Light of Christ extend far beyond one’s conscience, even when that conscience is amplified by the Holy Ghost, fueling greater brightness from the Light of Christ. Consider the following insights regarding the immense scope of the Light of Christ:
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.
Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. …
The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6–7, 13)
These few verses of doctrine, revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, remind us of how very little we grasp about the Light of Christ. The shining of Christ’s perfect comprehension emanates from the same source as the light of the sun and the power by which the sun was made. To envision the immensity of this power, consider that the sun emits enough energy (via light) to warm the entire earth even from 93 million miles away. Beyond heat, there is also electrical energy (electricity) that can be generated by converting sunlight energy using solar panels or solar heat plants. Based on electricity usage around the world in the year 2014, the earth is exposed to enough light from the sun in a single day to power the entire globe for more than twenty years. Of course, this would require a means of capturing and storing such energy—a subject of great scientific interest and active research—but imagine the magnitude of energy that is coming from the sun to be able to provide such intense capability in a single day and from 93 million miles away! Now remember that the power by which the source of such solar energy was created is the Light of Christ, “even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:13).
What’s more, the Light of Christ is also giving “life to all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:13). Perhaps this is referring to the fact that nothing on Earth could survive without the light of the sun,2 which we just learned is also part of the Light of Christ. Or, perhaps it is even more than that—some other life-sustaining force that we have no ability to scientifically measure. No matter what, it is clear that the Light of Christ is far more than just the conscience of human beings that gives promptings for that which is right, though it is that as well (see Moroni 7:12–19). The Guide to the Scriptures, available at churchofjesuschrist.org, provides a nice summary and includes nearly comprehensive documentation to scriptures referring to the Light of Christ. I’ve included some of its summary here:
[The light of Christ is] divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. It is the law by which all things are governed in heaven and on earth (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6–13). It also helps people understand gospel truths and helps to put them on that gospel path that leads to salvation (John 3:19–21; 12:46; Alma 26:15; 32:35; Doctrine and Covenants 93:28–29, 31–32, 40, 42).
The light of Christ should not be confused with the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ is not a person. It is an influence that comes from God and prepares a person to receive the Holy Ghost. It is an influence for good in the lives of all people (John 1:9; Doctrine and Covenants 84:46–47).
One manifestation of the light of Christ is conscience, which helps a person choose between right and wrong (Moro. 7:16). As people learn more about the gospel, their consciences become more sensitive (Moro. 7:12–19). People who hearken to the light of Christ are led to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 84:46–48).3
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I confess that I do not understand the full extent of the Light of Christ. How can one singularly defined source be responsible for so very many diverse and eternally significant aspects of our existence and path to salvation? As a scientist, I have far more questions than I do answers. And yet, without hesitation, I fully trust and believe in every implication of the Light of Christ. Between my years of studying light, both scientifically and religiously, and my associated experiences with light, I have come to realize that there is a depth and breadth to the power of light that we cannot fully understand in our temporal state. What is clear to me is that I have been blessed in countless ways when I have trusted in God’s light, which has led me to discern more and more light through obedience to his commandments. I believe in all that the Light of Christ is in a way similar to an expression of faith from the renowned Christian author, C. S. Lewis: “I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”4
The Spiritual Physics of Light
- There is such beautiful and compelling scriptural language regarding the outstretched arms/hands of the Lord, including that found in 2 Nephi 1:15; Alma 5:33; 34:16; Mormon 5:11; 6:17; and Doctrine and Covenants 6:20. This gesture signifies his great, inviting love for us and has been studied in considerable depth. See, for example, David Calabro, “‘Stretch Forth Thy Hand and Prophesy’: Hand Gestures in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 1 (2012): 46–59.
- Light from the sun enables photosynthesis from plants, which yields oxygen for us to breathe; hence, light is quite literally the breath of life.
- “Light, Light of Christ,” Guide to the Scriptures, https://lds.org/scriptures/gs/light-light-of-christ.
- C. S. Lewis made this statement in an essay titled “Is Theology Poetry?” that was presented in 1944 at an Oxford debating society called the “Socratic Club.” In 1962, “Is Theology Poetry?” was published in a collection of essays called They Asked for a Paper.