Summary: Many Christians suffer from Spiritual Affective Disorder, because they do not allow their lives to be exposed to the light of God. "Bright light therapy" can bring their lives back on track. How can God's light change our lives?
[Sermon preached on 4 February 2018, Candlemas / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
I have been living in Finland for more than thirty-five years now. And still, every year, I get affected by the winter blues. Days are so short, and the clouds are so thick, that some days it seems to me that the sun does not shine at all. Before it is really light, the sun is going down already. Really depressing! Do you have that same feeling sometimes?
What English speakers know as the winter blues, is officially called Seasonal Affective Disorder. The acronym is S.A.D. — “sad”. What a great name for a depression, isn’t it!
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? Very simply, it is a lack of light. Whether we like it or not, light affects our hormone production. When it is light, our body produces hormones that give us energy and good appetite, and that lift our spirits up. When it is dark, these hormones have to give way to colleagues who make us tired, sleepy and downcast (and an unhealthy appetite).
That works great in the rhythm of a normal day. When the sun goes up, we wake up full of energy and good spirits, ready to face a day full of challenges. And when the sun goes down, we start feeling tired and ready to go to sleep. But in the middle of the winter, the time between sunrise and sunset is really short. And if the clouds are thick enough and there is no snow to reflect whatever light there is, our “night” mode just goes on. When we wake up, we feel like just turning around and taking another eight hours of sleep right away.
You recognize that? We simply need light every day, and we need a lot of it to keep us going. That’s why one of the most effective remedies against the winter blues is “bright light therapy”. Expose yourself to bright light for 30–60 minutes a day, and after a few days you will feel a lot better and more energetic. Exposure to light does the trick. The brighter the light, and the longer you are exposed to it, the less depressed you will be.
The same is also true in a spiritual sense. S.A.D. can also stand for Spiritual Affective Disorder. It is a state of spiritual depression—a spiritual crisis, you might say. It can happen to all of us, any time. It happened to me, many times in my life.
There were times when I felt great about my Christian life and my relationship with God. Days when I would spend lots of time reading and studying the Bible, praying, writing a spiritual journal, devouring Christian books and sermons, attending several Bible study and prayer meetings every week, and eager to tell others about Jesus.
But then there were also times that—for no obvious reason—my spiritual life started drying up. My appetite for the Word of God was gone and it felt more and more burdensome to pray. I stopped reading Christian books, skipped Bible studies and prayer meetings, and felt as if God was so far away.
Spiritual Affective Disorder. Could perhaps “bright light therapy” be the remedy also for this kind of spiritual depression?
The two Bible readings from the New Testament give us an important perspective on this question. They speak about light and darkness, and about a lot of other things connected to this theme. Their perspectives are very different, but their truth and their message are the same.
“God is light; in him there is no darkness.”
What a bold and profound statement! God is light—perfect light—100% light. Hallelujah! But at the same time these texts raise the important question: What is light? What does John really mean here when he calls God light?
Light—in the metaphysical sense of the word—means different things to different people. It means different things in different religions and worldviews as well. In Buddhism, for example, light refers first of all to wisdom. The Buddha is often represented with his eyes closed. He focuses not on the light around him, that is bright in midday and disappears completely in the evening. He focuses on the light within, the wisdom that comes from contemplation and meditation and from connecting with the spiritual world.
In Western history, we identify the 18th century as the “Age of Enlightenment”. We also call it the “Age of Reason”. It was a time when science and philosophy were jumping ahead with remarkable speed and force. But it was also the time when the understanding of truth changed. Earlier on, truth was based on authority. When people wanted to know what was true, they would look it up in the Bible, or they would ask the church for answers. That should settle the matter. But in the Enlightenment, authority was challenged as the basis for truth. Instead, reason became the #1 criterion for whether something was true or not. And as a result, the Bible lost its unique status as the unquestioned Word of God. Instead, scholars in theology started to subject the Bible to scientific scrutiny on the basis of reason. And whatever was considered “unreasonable”, was labeled false—not true.