Where the Light Is Strong
A classic vaudeville routine begins with a pitch-black theater except for a large circle of light coming from a street lamp. In the spotlight, a man is on his knees, crawling with his hands in front of him, carefully probing the lighted circle. After a few moments a policeman walks on stage. Seeing the man on all fours, he poses the obvious question: “Did you lose something?”
“Yes,” the man replies. “I have lost my keys.”
Kindly, the police officer joins the man’s search, and two figures now circle the lighted area on hands and knees. After some time, the officer stops. “Are you absolutely certain this is where you lost your keys? We've covered every inch.”
“Why no,” the man replies matter-of-factly, pointing to a darkened corner. “I lost them over there.”
Visibly shaken, the policeman exclaims, “Well, then why in the name of all heaven are we looking for them over here?”
The man responds with equal annoyance: “Isn't that obvious? The light is better over here!”
The classic comedy enacts a subtle point. It is far easier to limit our examining of life’s missing keys to easy, comfortable places. Like a modern parable, the story registers an illogic common to most. Searching dark and difficult corners—where the keys may have in fact been lost—is far less desirable.
Somewhere between reading belittling headlines of a once-popular celebrity and hearing an open invitation to weigh-in on the latest political scandal, I wondered if the drama didn't register something more. It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the signs that we live, particularly in the west, in a world of criticism. We are encouraged by all facets of the media to examine the flaws of everyone, to search for the scandal in every story, and to pour over everything that divides us, offends us or otherwise differs from us in any way.
But more than this, we are encouraged to opine and criticize regardless of whether we know anything about the subject or person whatsoever. Online news articles quite typically now have a section for comments where readers are invited to put their own remarks in writing. And comment they do. The long list of critics offers thoughts on anything from the topic, to the author, to things completely unrelated. Carrying this one step further, one online bookseller not only invites anyone to be an official book reviewer; they also invite anyone to comment on these comments, to vote on whether or not the reviewers themselves need to be critiqued. While I appreciate some of these services, the attitude they endorse seems so pervasive. Everyone is now a critic and an expert at once.
And this is where the man in the drama seems unquestionably familiar. How easy is it to search where the light is strong, to examine the faults and scandals of others as if it were the best place to logically spend our time? As the light of the media shines on an individual or the light of gossip draws our attention like searchlights to a grand opening, how easy is it to declare this particular spot the place we will fully scrutinize? How readily do we prefer to be critics of those in the spotlight rather than fumble over our own flaws in the dark?
In the Christian journey in the shadow of the God-Man, where some follow the darkened path of self-examination, it is helpful to know that Jesus was aware just how tempting is the option of the easier route. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?… You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-4). The flaws we see in pop-stars, politicians, and co-workers may seem so startlingly clear to us. The critiques and opinions we can so readily offer about books and public scandal, internal gossip and things about which we actually know little all may seem innocent enough. But might there not be a better place to spend our energy searching? Maybe we are looking where the light is strong, but not where keys are really lost.
An old proverb explains, “The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.” Perhaps this is true because the mocker spends his time searching the comfortable places of life, the easy targets where light and company will always be found. The difficult, dimly lighted places require much more of us, and often we are left to search on our own. But the discerning know that wisdom comes with the kind of seeking that pulls us mysteriously inward, into places where there is actually something to find, and before a merciful throne that compels transparency. Here, everyone who seeks finds, the lost themselves are discovered, and once dark corners of the soul are changed by the light of Christ.