There was a zoologist by the name of Gordon R. Stephenson who presented a research paper to the University of Wisconsin titled, Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. What he found was quite interesting. Essentially he conducted an experiment where he put a group of monkeys in a large cage.
Inside of the cage was a ladder, and at the top of the ladder were some bananas. When a monkey tried to climb the ladder to get the bananas all of the monkeys got blasted with water. After a while the monkeys learned that if they tried to climb the ladder they all got blasted with water, and so they stopped trying to climb the ladder.
What Stephenson then did was to introduce a new monkey into the cage. When this monkey attempted to climb the ladder all the other monkeys would stop it and beat it up. Then he proceeded to replace all the monkeys, one by one, with new ones.
Even though none of the monkeys that were now in the cage had ever been blasted by water, they still would stop, and beat up, any new monkey that attempted to climb up the ladder to get the bananas. None of them had any idea of why, it simply wasn't the done thing.
These monkeys were completely in the dark on the issue, but they had learned the culture of the cage.
I found this very interesting.
The reason I find this study so interesting is because it speaks deeply to our human condition, that we are conditioned by 'the culture of our cage.' We do not necessarily know the reason why we do some of the things we do, we probably don't even think about half of the things we are accustomed to doing, but we know to do 'the done thing.'
So many aspects of our culture seem so important and immovable; in fact we are often not even aware that we have a culture of our own. We tend to think of the ways we do things as being deeply right, proper, or even godly. But so many of the systems we have put in place are exactly that, systems that we have put in place.
The way we work, the way we trade, the ways we think, are often comparable to systems put in place by the monkeys in the cage; that is, we have no idea why they are in place.
Let's talk about light for a minute. We understand light to be a wave and a particle that travels really fast, actually at 1080 million km per hour. It comes from the sun and from other stars, and from anything with energy.
Without light everything would get really cold and obviously really dark. Most people are aware there is a spectrum of light, but many people would not know that heat is also light, radio waves are also light, and gamma rays (the things that make the Hulk green) are also light. Basically light is really, really important, and it is everywhere.
We could also give some less concrete attributes to light, such as being morally 'good', or to 'know,' that is, to learn something can be referred to as 'shedding light' on that subject. We may even describe light as being 'heavenly,' 'angelic,' or even 'godly.'
If you were to ask someone from Jesus' time, from the ancient world, what light was they would probably say some similar things. The ancient person probably wouldn't know how fast it went, it is unlikely they could speak of its invisible parts, and I doubt that they would be aware that light can be curved by the gravity of space-time. An ancient person would however attribute the moral, the conscious, and 'god-like' attributes to light, probably more quickly than we would.
In the Bible, in the first chapter of John, Jesus is described as being 'the light of the world,' and says that "the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John chapter 1, verse 5.) John is making quite a big statement about Jesus.
John is saying that Jesus is not only 'good' but is the source of that good, not only knowledgeable but the source of that knowledge, and not only godlike but in fact God. Jesus is light, and the light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not understood it.
Ultimately darkness is something that is not only unknowing, but also unknowable. This seems to be true both spiritually and physically. It is possible for us to look at a black hole in outer space and, although it is a thing, it is impossible to know anything about it because it is too heavy for even light to escape, all we can see is just darkness.
The main way we actually know something to be real is from light being reflected, or radiated from it. Darkness has no light. Just as we cannot know what is in a black hole in outer space, we cannot know our own darkness without light from outside of us shining in on it.
If a 'Jesus monkey' were to enter into the cage of Gordon R. Stephenson, and were to shed some light on the situation for the monkeys, either one of two things would happen. They would either beat him up and say, "No! This is the way we have always done it, and this is the way we always will do it." Or they would listen to the 'Jesus monkey,' and get bananas! I feel that if the 'Jesus monkey' became the great liberator of the bananas, he would become something of a god in that cage.
But what we learn from the experiment of Gordon R. Stephenson, and also from the scriptures, is that monkeys (and people) love to hold on to the ways they do things, even though they may have no idea why they are actually doing them.
The point is this: when we fail to understand the light, when we fail to grasp the new, the difficult, and the wonderful we struggle to understand how, in a violent world, with violent hearts, forgiveness and love could be the only way. We struggle to understand how, in a world of seeming scarcity, that generosity is the only answer.
And so may we, in our inability to understand the light, not say "No! This is the way we have always done it" and beat up the monkeys climbing the ladder. But may we draw closer, even though we do not understand, to the God that is light.
Jared Diprose is a self-employed Artisan and co-director of the Mosaic Workshop. He has a degree in Theology and believes that words shape worlds. He is married to Sierra. You can see some of his work at www.jareddiprose.co.nz and you can check out The Mosaic Workshop at www.facebook.com/workshopmosaic
Jared Diprose's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jared-diprose.html