Devotional Thought for This Morning
“Theologizing the Oscar Speech by Bong Joon-Ho”
John 1:5 (NIV 1984)
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (emphasis mine)
John 1:5 (ESV)
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (emphasis mine)
What a shocker! The first Korean movie ever to be nominated for the Oscars—Parasite—snagged two most coveted Academy Awards: best film and best director (Bong Joon-Ho). There were other winners as well and to each was given a moment to share their thoughts with the world. This being the most significant award ceremony for the film industry, the words spoken by the night’s winners were scrutinized by many; while no one raised eyebrows at Bong’s speech, many had plenty to say about what Joaquim Phoenix shared after winning the Best Actor award.
Of course, there is a good reason no one had anything bad to say about Bong’s speech: Never did he even once talk about himself; rather, he spent the entirety of that precious moment to give props to the other four nominees who didn’t win. In fact, Bong’s singling out Martin Scorsese as the lifelong inspiration for his films prompted the audience to give this famed director a standing ovation, while the winning director joined in. Bong then thanked another renowned director Quentin Tarantino for touting his movies when Bong was a nobody. Perhaps, the best line of the night was what Bong would do to the Oscar statuette if the Academy allowed it: “Using the Texas chainsaw, I’d cut the trophy into five pieces and then share the pieces with the rest.” Wow, what an incredible display of humility and gratitude that stunningly captured the attitude of Christ: “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3b-4).
But this morning, as I was reading Genesis, I ran into this verse: “Every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time” (Gn. 6:5). Calvinism alludes to this spiritual condition as total depravity of man. Now, I don’t know whether Bong, listed as a Catholic, is a believer to whom Jesus is Lord. (His constant allusion to drinking until the next morning and failure to thank the Lord for his big night does raise a yellow flag.) Howbeit, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that he isn’t a believer and therefore, his depravity hasn’t been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. How then do we account for his incredible display of kindheartedness—as far removed from evil as one can imagine—that every believer should embody but comes up very short far too often?
For a response, consider a seemingly straightforward verse in the Gospel of John where the apostle John says, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (Jn. 1:5 NIV 1984). Here, “the darkness” could refer to fallen or depraved humanity and “the light” could refer to what the apostle Paul dubs as “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). That being said, this verse seems to declare that fallen humans are so spiritually depraved (aided and abetted by “the god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers”) that they cannot “comprehend” (NASB) the gospel apart from first receiving the Spirit. To that end, Paul says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). It can be then said that all actions of unregenerate men, including seemingly good ones that, nonetheless, do not originate from the Spirit, which they don’t have, are evil to the extent that they believe their deeds merit salvation, since this will have the opposite effect of drawing them away from God’s grace.
But, as hinted earlier, the interpretation of John 1:5 isn’t as straightforward as it seems because the Greek word katalambano—translated as “understood” in NIV—also could mean “overcome” and that is how ESV translates it: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Evidently, this rendering makes the meaning just the opposite: Despite the thickness of darkness, the light from God still manages to reach fallen humans, meaning they can access the light despite being depraved and blinded spiritually.
Two questions arise here. First, what is this light? Is this “the light of the gospel?” If so, then, wouldn’t the phase “the darkness has not overcome it” imply that fallen humans can believe the gospel without first being regenerated by the Spirit? No. When katalambano is understood as “overcome,” “the light” mentioned in John 1:5 does not allude to “the light of the gospel, which I would call as God’s greater light since it, when appropriated in faith through the Spirit, will result in salvation. Then, what light from God is in purview when it says that “the darkness has not overcome it”? It is God’s lesser light, consisting of three blessings (i.e., benefits), that all humanity can access: first, the blessing of being “made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9b); second, the blessing of having “the requirements of the law . . . written on [our] hearts” (Rom. 2:15); and third, the benefits deriving from God’s common blessing (“God . . . sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”—Mt. 5:45b). So, when unbelievers access any or all these blessings, they can, like the unbelieving islanders of Malta who “showed [Paul] unusual kindness” when he was shipwrecked (Acts 28:2).
Second question, then, is why God has bestowed these blessings unto a humanity that has consistently rebelled against Him, from the tower of Babel (Gn. 11) to the present world in which many cultural elites defy God by caring more about a cow’s “cries of anguish” (Joaquin Phoenix) than the silent scream of the unborn. Why? Because “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8b), and thus, “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Lk. 6:35). That is why He has created us in His image, written His moral laws in our hearts and given us rain from heaven so that we can live in a peaceful and quiet society (1 Tim. 2:2) and can have “plenty of food” to “fill your hearts with joy,” which, by the way, was said to pagans (Acts 14:17). Nevertheless, living according to God’s lesser light, however well-kept for the most part—particularly the law written on the heart—does not lead to salvation; that’s not what that is for (Rom. 3:20; James 2:10).
And the humility and gratitude expressed by Director Bong, who continues to bear the image of God and the moral law in his heart—regardless whether he has been regenerated by the Spirit— reminds us that God’s lesser blessing is still so more powerful than our fallenness. Certainly, our sinful orientation greatly diminishes the effectiveness of God’s lesser light given to our benefits, but our depravity can never completely expunge it.
So, when people of the world do or say something nice, don’t trash it as if God is not in it. Instead, celebrate the display of good and beauty expressed by the people of the world whenever they manage to capture it. (Remember, even a broken clock is correct twice a day.) Then point out the source of their goodness, creativity and innovation—namely, God who “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Eccles. 3:11). Then, tell them gently but firmly that this God, who has blessed you so much, wants to bless you even more by shining upon you His greater light, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).
Prayer: Father, thank You for Your love for the entire world! How amazing is it that You are “kind to the ungrateful and wicked,” that You cause [the] sun to rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” May we faithfully express Your love for the world when dealing with the people of the world. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Isaiah 10
Lunch Break Study*
Read Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Questions to Ponder
- Why do you suppose this passage can be very controversial?
- How can we reconcile this passage that seems to oppose the doctrine of justification by faith?
- How serious are you about your spiritual life? In what ways can you be more serious about your personal relationship with God? Is it possible to be serious and joyful? How do you think the apostle Paul is able to display both attitudes in his spiritual walk? How can you?
- Verse 12 (“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling”) has caused not a small bit of angst among Christians. Salvation through faith in Christ alone, is a theological doctrine that Apostle Paul himself has developed throughout his epistles (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). Surely, Paul is not suggesting here that we are to earn our salvation through our good works, even if it is with God’s help. So how do we reconcile this?
- This is an instance where knowing the context is vital in our understanding of this verse. The context (beginning with Phil. 2:1) is not dealing with how to get people saved (justification); rather, it is how saved people are to live out their salvation (sanctification) in light of what God has done. “Fear and trembling” isn’t so much this awful dread that God will zap them if they mess up; but rather, given the majesty of Christ portrayed in the preceding verses (vv.9-11), the idea appears to be that of reverent awe and wonder.
- Personal response: With these things in mind, it is clear that the way we should go about our lives (cf. Phil 1:27) is not in reckless abandonment, but with carefulness and gravity of thought.
Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “His works are perfect and all his ways are just. A God of truth… righteous and upright is he.” In light of that, read the following prayer by Pastor Bruce Yi and reflect:
“Father, You desire that I seek and inquire of You, to crave You and Your strength, to behold Your face and Your presence, continually and forevermore. I am astounded that You make Your Kingdom and Your righteousness available to me! Father, thank You for Your victory You give me through Jesus. This is the victory that has overcome the world: faith that flows from You, Jesus, my blessed hope. I am confident that Your glorious goodness will be with me all of my life. It is the cry of my heart to believe and speak of Your righteousness and love in all circumstances, and I will! You are always good, upright and just, and available.
Oh, Lord, thank You for revealing more and more of Your very heart and Your character to me. In Your presence, complicated matters become simple, and You encounter my heart in intimacy and wisdom; there is nothing like being in Your presence. In Your Son’s name, amen.”
*Originally posted on September 14, 2013 by then-staff of Remnant Westside Church in Manhattan.