Does God Dwell in Light or Darkness?
In the February 12, 2009 Butt/Barker Debate on the existence of the God of the Bible, atheist Dan Barker spent nearly two-thirds of his opening 15-minute speech alleging that the Bible’s portrayal of God is contradictory. Barker alleged several discrepancies (most all of which we have answered elsewhere on our Web site), including that God cannot logically dwell in light and darkness. Twelve minutes and five seconds into his first speech, Dan Barker asserted:
Does God live in light or does God live in darkness? First Timothy 6: “The King of kings, Lord of Lords dwelling in the light which no man can approach.” James 1:17: He’s “the Father of lights” and on and on we see God is light. There’s no darkness in him at all. However, in 1 Kings 8: “Then spake Solomon: “The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.” First Samuel 22: “He made darkness pavilions round about Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the sky.” Psalm 18:11: “He made darkness his secret place.” So, God lives in light. God lives in darkness.
Do these verses paint a contradictory picture of God? Not at all.
First, the Bible uses the terms “light” and “darkness” in several ways and in a variety of contexts. God’s dwelling place in the spiritual realm of the heaven of heavens is filled with “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), because His unrestrained glory illuminates it (Revelation 21:23). God made light in the physical Universe during the six-day Creation and “called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night” (Genesis 1:5). He made the Sun, Moon, and stars on day four of Creation, thus making Him the “Father of lights” (James 1:17). Jesus was miraculously transfigured before three of His apostles and “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). The psalmist referred to light in the sense of divine instruction: “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (119:130). Conversely, the psalmist referred to those who “do not know, nor...understand,” as those who “walk about in darkness” (82:5). While addressing the subjects of sin and righteousness, the apostle John used the terms light and darkness symbolically: “God is light (i.e., holy) and in Him is no darkness (i.e., sin)” (1 John 1:5). This same apostle referred to Jesus as “the Light” throughout his gospel account (1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:34-36,46), and Matthew recorded that Jesus spoke of His disciples as “the light of the world” (5:14-16), reflectors of His righteousness.
Notice that Barker never hinted at the different ways in which the word “light” and “darkness” are used in Scripture. He simply positioned a phrase like that found in James 1:17 regarding God being the Creator (“Father”) of lights against the poetic statement found in Psalm 18:11 (“He made darkness his secret place”) and expected his listeners to believe they are contradictory. But the fact is, God being the Father of the Sun, Moon, and stars made on day four, has no bearing whatsoever on the question of whether God dwells in darkness or light. What God has created and where God dwells are two different things. One cannot fault Scripture when a critic compares apples and oranges. For there to be a legitimate contradiction, the same thing must be under consideration.
Second, the passage in 1 Kings 8:12 that Barker noted (“The Lord said that he would dwell in thick darkness”—KJV) is not discussing God’s dwelling place in the heaven of heavens. First Kings 8:12-13, along with 2 Chronicles 5:13-14, discuss God’s presence in the physical temple of God in Jerusalem. Just as “the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” in the days of Moses (Exodus 40:34), so “the house of the Lord [the temple], was filled with a cloud” (2 Chronicles 5:13). Similarly, the highly poetic wording in Psalm 18 and 1 Samuel 22 (a quotation of Psalm 18) pictures God, not on His majestic, glorious throne in heaven, but as One Who “came down” from heaven (Psalm 18:9), “flew upon the wings of the wind” (18:10), and delivered his servant David from his enemies while making “darkness His secret place” and “His canopy...dark waters” (18:11). As H.C. Leupold commented:
The picture is that of a violent storm—a figure so frequently used in the Scriptures to furnish the accompaniment of God’s approach, He Himself being as it were housed in the storm. From the time of Sinai onward these figures become standard (cf. Exod. 19:16-18; Judg. 5:4,5; Ps. 68:7;77:16-18; Is. 29:6; 30:27ff.; etc.). As the storm sweeps near, He is in it. The thick storm clouds are the material upon which He rides (1959, pp. 166-167).
Once again, when a person takes the time to carefully inspect Dan Barker’s allegation that the Bible paints a contradictory picture of God, the sincere truth seeker will discover the vacuousness of his charges. Time and again, both in his debate with Kyle Butt on the existence of the God of the Bible and in his writings, Barker has disregarded the fact that for a legitimate contradiction to exist, one must be referring to the same person, place, or thing, at the same time, in the same sense (for more information, see Lyons, 2003 and 2005).
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), The Butt/Barker Debate (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Leupold, H.C. (1959), Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Lyons, Eric (2003), The Anvil Rings: Volume 1 (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Lyons, Eric (2005), The Anvil Rings: Volume 2 (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).