Writing with Light

I have a small collection of old cameras. That might sound very hip in our current culture where everything vintage and throwback is suddenly cool again, but for me it just means that my immediate relatives, rather than throwing them in the trash, have given me their old picture-taking electronics—all because I took one photography class in college.

While I have not kept every single old camera that has crossed my path, I do have a few I will probably hold onto:

» my mother’s black-and-chrome little Fujica Half 35-mm camera with its satisfying buttons and cranks;

» my parents’ original Polaroid Spectra camera (that would probably still work if I could find the right film);

» the 1956 Kodak Brownie Movie Camera of my grandfather’s, a hefty silver box whose slides and spindles my son finds endlessly fascinating.

One day last week my son came into the room where I was grading papers and began fiddling with some of the aforementioned cameras, as he had done countless times before.

But this time after he pushed the shutter button on the old Polaroid, the camera came to life. It made a humming sound it hadn’t made in at least 20 years and emitted a single Polaroid photograph.

Boy was my son excited! (And I was, too, I must admit.) He hollered for his sisters to come and see what had just happened. They came running, but there wasn’t much else to see: the photograph, being much too old, I guess, never developed. But there we all were, staring at this piece of retro-tech so outdated to me but such a marvel to them.

Which led me to explain how a Polaroid camera (and older cameras, generally) used to work.

Which later got me to thinking about the word photography and how the word itself is not only a beautiful description of the art and mechanics of picture-making but also of the purpose of Christian living.

From the Greek words pho·tos (ϕοτοσ) meaning light and -graph·os (γραοσ) meaning writing, the word photography means writing with light.

Quite literally, then, a photograph captures the light of a scene and etches it onto paper (or film or a digital file*). We can think of a photograph as a written record or inscription of the patterns of darkness and light.

So what we perceive as a family portrait or a candid snapshot is actually just the outlines of highlights and shadows, a copy of the amount and type of light of the pictured scene.

In this way, a photograph—no matter how stunning or vivid or meticulously altered—is merely the copy and shadow of our own reality.

Which serves as a very fitting illustration of God’s words in Hebrews 8:5 when He calls this world a copy and shadow of what is in Heaven.

Which should then remind us that to have a copy there must first be the true thing from which to make a copy, and to have a shadow there must first be a source of light from which rays can be obscured to create a shadow.

According to the first chapter of John, this true thing is the source of light.

In fact, John 1 identifies Christ as the true light and points to the Word of God as the direct source of illumination.

Throughout Scripture, the word light is used as a metaphor for many things: for goodness, for truth, salvation, life. The word light also expresses spiritual illumination and can represent the Word of God and even God Himself.

All of these metaphorical expressions of the word light come together in the first chapter of John, where their true meaning is revealed in the Person of Christ.

The book of John opens with the claim that the Word of God was present at the beginning of all things and that the Word was with God and that the Word was, in fact, God Himself, the source of all things through whom “all things were made.”

In verse 14 John then goes on to say that “the Word became flesh” in the Person of Jesus, whom John identifies in verse 9 as the “true light” in whom, according to verse 4, “was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”

Jesus Himself clearly supports His identity as light and continues to use the language of light to describe Himself:

» John 8:12 • “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

» John 9:5 • “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

» John 12:46 • “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

Just as Jesus is the true light and the light of the world, so also are believers in Him called the sons and children of light:

» In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells his disciples (and us, by extension), “You are the light of the world.”

»  2 Corinthians 4:6 tells us that God has “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

» Ephesians 5:8 exhorts us to “live as children of light.”

» 1 Thessalonians 5:5 calls us “children of the light.

So what exactly does it mean for us to be children of light or the light of the world?

I think it means we are supposed to be like photographs.

To explain, let’s take a look at the definition of photography as given by Merriam-Webster:

pho · tog · ra · phy: the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (such as film or an optical sensor).

The Merriam-Webster Kids Definition (after all, we are children of light) puts it a little differently:

“the making of pictures by means of a camera that directs the image of an object onto a surface that is sensitive to light.”

Like photographs, we as Christians, as children of light, are to be sensitive to the light of Christ. We are to let the radiant energy of God take action in our lives to produce in us a reflection of Himself.

The Lord writes with light, and our lives are to be the surfaces on which He writes. We are to let the illumination of the Word of God make its mark in our lives.

So that when people look at us they may see a writing of light, a record of the Lord’s presence in our lives, the etchings of His goodness and mercy, the inscription of His love and truth.


* Taking a picture with a digital camera (or phone) is a little different from the old film cameras. However, the metaphor of light can still apply. When the shutter button is pressed to take a digital picture, light still comes through the camera opening to capture the scene, just like with an old film camera. However, the difference is how the scene is recorded.

Rather than recording the light rays as sketches on a piece of film, for a digital photo the light rays are converted into electric signals and recorded in very small files of the information that look like colored dots and are called pixels. Ultimately, a digital picture files is “an enormously long string of numbers describing the exact details of each pixel it contains.” **

(I have explained the process of photography very simply here and hope I haven’t misrepresented any information. If you are very interested, there are plenty of more detailed and reputable sources out there!)

Anyway, regardless of the method of picture-taking and the science behind it, the metaphor remains: A photograph is still the impression of light on a sensitive surface, so we, too, can reflect the impression that the light of the Lord has had on our lives.

** quoted from https://www.explainthatstuff.com/digitalcameras.html

cover photo courtesy of Pexels.com


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