The Scriptures are full of images of light and shadow. There are several ways this metaphor is used. First, “shadow” represents being protected in the shadow of God as a great tree or God as a great bird. “All the birds of the heavens made their nests in its boughs; under its branches all the beasts of the field gave birth to their young, and under its shadow lived all great nations.” (Ex. 31:6) “For you [O Lord] have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” (Ps. 63:7)
In just a few places, the phrase “shadow of death” is used, like in Psalm 23 and in this verse for Psalm 107. “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons.” (Ps. 107:10)
Yet another way the metaphor of a shadow is used is to call something not solid, not as real or glorious as what is to come. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”. (Col. 2:16-17) Yes, what a believer eats and drinks, and how they observe religious holidays are a part of a religious lifestyle. But the writer of Colossians is pointing out that even these things, which seem so important, are only a shadow of the reality of the eternal Christ whom they worship and the life we gain by knowing him.
Shadow can also refer to the fleeting nature of something. “He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” (Job 14:2) “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” (Ps. 102:11)
In a recent sermon I discussed shadows as if they are beings trying to be something they’re not. When light is bright and aimed directly at a shadow, the shadow becomes darker and sharper – as if they’re trying to become something solid. It won’t work; they are only shadows. This becomes relevant to us today as we pay attention to the war or any other form of injustice or violence. The wicked may try to be “real,” but they simply can’t outwit truth. I like this verse from Ecclesiastes about the wicked trying to prolong its existence, referring to the end of the day, when shadows grow long, as if they are trying to hang on with dear life. “…neither will the wicked prolong his days like a shadow. (Eccl. :13)
Our Christian faith proclaims that we know who the Light is, and we can recognize that which is only a shadow. Jesus told his disciples that he was the Light of the World – and he also calls us the light of the world. When surrounded by shadow in our lives and world, we are comforted that the Light of God, made known to us in Christ, cannot be overcome with darkness (Jn. 1:5). This is the victory proclaimed at Easter. Shadows fade and vanish – sin and death are no longer. Knowing this truth provides for us vision, creativity, hope and the peace that passes understanding: here, now, and in the future yet to unfold.