The Shadow of the Christian
If something exists and has enough substance and if light can interact with it in the right way, then that “something’s” shadow can be produced. Shadows are very easily made—-get between some surface and a source of light and there you are! We do it all the time without thinking about it. Shadows can be fun especially when they highlight certain situations and create laughter. I am reminded of a trip to Smith Island in the seventies, as a teenager. I and a friend, along with some other folks, visited for the day and had to return in the evening. As we waited to board a boat to come home, my friend, who had a girlfriend there and was at the moment trying to say goodbye in a romantic way, stole away to what he thought was a private place. A few goodnight kisses followed, which everyone knew since their “private” place happened to be between a pole light and a nice smooth wall of a building. Their shadows, kissing shadows that is, were thus projected on the wall, the wall acting as a theater screen! In view of everyone! The funniest shadow show I can remember!
Shadow is also used in the Bible in a number of ways. Our days on earth and lifestyle are referred to as shadows. Of course Psalm 23 and the valley of the shadow of death is very familiar. God’s shadow is mentioned quite often as a place of refuge and safety. In the New Testament, an important reference concerns the shadow of Peter. He had performed many miracles and people tried to at least be touched by his shadow as he passed the crowds, thinking his healing power extended even to his shadow!
In our everyday vernacular, shadow is used in many ways and is a common idiom of expression. “Beyond a shadow of doubt” is something that reminds of a courtroom, being the “shadow of oneself” is something that aging athletes can relate to, and there are many others. Shadow is also used in reference to people’s accomplishments or stature. Someone who left an indelible mark, negatively or positively, for generations can be said to have “cast a long shadow”, extending over a long period of time.
Robert Louis Stevenson in his book “Child’s Garden of Verses” says of his shadow, “He is very, very like me from the heels up to my head”. When the right circumstances exist, a shadow can be a pretty good outline of a person’s physical body. But it can only capture certain parts of that person, a rough physical outline only. A shadow is at most, only an imperfect representation of the person.
Extending this to the Christian realm, is there a use in which “shadow” can illustrate some feature of Christianity? I think there is! Our physical selves casts a shadow and it is not a big leap to consider the “spiritual” shadow a Christian may produce. A shadow gives the broad outline of our physical self. Our Christian shadow, then, gives a broad outline of our spiritual life. As the inner workings of the heart are unseen to all but God, our actions are what ultimately testifies to the life professed for God and those actions are what makes up our spiritual shadow. This spiritual shadow comes into existence when our life has been illuminated by the light of God’s love and holiness.
Our spiritual shadow is a present reality, it is our life as seen by the world now. An important question thus follows, and thus will ask about the kind of contour our shadow has assumed when viewed by the world. Is it one characterized by God’s love? Does it testify to “true” Truth, that Truth which sets free from sin and proclaims liberty to serve God? Is the outline of this spiritual shadow such that others see a difference in our daily outlook regarding the many pressures of life? Does it illustrate a life worthy of being emulated by others? These kinds of things witness to the changed, heart of the Christian. The world can only see the shadow of that changed heart.
Our shadow will persist into the future as well. How will we, those of us who are Christians, be remembered? Christians understand that there will be false judgments from those who do not understand Christianity, but to everyone else, will our shadow withstand the scrutiny from them, those who are openly and sincerely looking for inspiration, because at some point there will only a remembrance of our life, our life at some future time having been completed. Will our history, even if viewed by only a few people, represent a life they would like to live? One of the things we will leave behind are the effects we have had on others through our actions and attitudes. And that is an important consideration—the responsibility to a future generation! What will be the substance of those remembrances?
A philosopher once commented that to be somebody one should “give honor to his shadow”. In the context of this article, the only way to do that is by making sure our “shadow” reflects the heart appropriately touched and influenced by God! If the proper care and diligence is given to those ends, our witness will be positive no matter what, at least as it is judged by God!