Splendor and Sin: How Seeing God's Light Shows Us Our Darkness

After being in a dark room, we can't help squinting when a bright light is illumined. Staggered, our eyes try to adjust as the brightness exposes how dim it's been. We pay attention to the light we're seeing, but simultaneously, we can't help but focus on our struggle assimilating to the light.

God's Glory and Our Sin

So it is as we see more of the light of God's glory. Especially those older, mature, tested-and-tried Christians can attest to this reality. The more we as Christians see God's glory, the more we sense our sin. When his brightness shines, our darkness becomes more apparent.

The late Jerry Bridges, in his famous The Pursuit of Holiness, described this reality, "The more we see the holiness of God and His law revealed to us in the Scripture, the more we must recognize how far short we fall" (The Pursuit of Holiness, 83). Bridges explains that the more manifest God's holiness—which is another way of saying, the more we see his glory—the greater our sinfulness appears to us. We can't help but squint the brighter the light becomes.

Three Examples in the Bible

Three biblical examples, which occur in central Bible passages, prove this experience.

1) Moses' Guilt After Hearing Glory

First, Moses famously experienced hearing God's glory. Moses boldly asks the Lord to show him his glory (Exodus 33:18). And God responds by passing by him and declaring his glorious name to Moses, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands..." (Exodus 33:6-7). In such pronouncements, Moses heard the glory of the Lord from the mouth of the Lord.

What then was Moses' response? "And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, 'If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance'" (Exodus 34:8-9). Stunned by the glory of God, Moses couldn't help but recognize their need for pardoning. The light exposed the darkness; the glory uncovered their guilt.

2) Isaiah's Repentance After Seeing Radiance

Second, Isaiah notably "saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1) and was exposed to God's radiance. Much of Isaiah chapters 1-5 is about God's holiness in contrast to the sin of the Israelites. But then in chapter 6, Isaiah witnessed the holiness of the Lord himself. "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim...And one called to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!' And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke" (Isaiah 6:1-4).

What was Isaiah's reaction to such a sight? "And I said: 'Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!'" (Isaiah 6:5). The holy glory of the Lord himself was revealed (the glory of Jesus himself! [John 12:41]). Isaiah responded by pronouncing a woe because of his sin. He couldn't but repent. The light exposed his darkness; the radiance led to repentance.

3) Peter's Sinfulness After Witnessing Splendor

Third, when the apostle Peter was first called by Jesus, a sight of Christ's splendor led to a realization of his sinfulness. Jesus saw Peter fishing and commanded, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4). Peter replied, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5). Then, to Peter's surprise, he witnessed his Master's majesty: "And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink" (Luke 5:6-7). Jesus displayed his Sovereign Lordship, even over fish.

What was Peter's immediate response? "But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men'" (Luke 5:8-10). Peter was astonished at manifest glory. And instead of only staring, he could not but help noticing his unworthiness. The light revealed his darkness; Jesus' revealed splendor led to Peter's sense of his own sin.

Glory and Guilt For Our Joy in the Gospel

Moses heard a description of the glory of the Lord. Isaiah saw God's holiness in a vision. Peter witnessed Jesus' splendor on earth in action. All were different manifestations of the light. But each person, while squinting, couldn't help but sense their darkness.

What then about us? As we discover more about God, as we glory more in the gospel, as we witness his work in our lives, are we simultaneously sensing more of our sin? As we see more of his light, are we realizing how dark we truly are?

This is where the rubber meets the road. It's easy to read the Bible, to say we're finding out more about God, to say we see the glories of the gospel. But with the biblical examples above in mind, we can assume if we're not growing in a sense of our sin, we're not truly seeing glory. If we're not squinting because of our darkness, we're not encountering the bright light.

May we then seek to see God's glory while sensing more the depth of our guilt. Doing so is not only the right, biblical response, it elevates what the Light of the World did for dark sinners like us. Such awareness gives us understanding of who we truly are and a greater appreciation of Christ's suffering in our place. And through this all, it further fuels our joy in the gospel.