The Light of Christ has always been a bit of an enigma to me, especially in terms of how it differs from the Holy Ghost. I’ve been studying those differences for some time now. Many questions have been answered, but those answers have spawned even more questions. That said, I’ve found some pretty definitive statements about what the Light of Christ is and is not. I’ll share my findings in this article and draw some conclusions towards the end.
The Light of Christ as divine energy
Let’s start with the basics, straight from the topics section of LDS.org:
The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things.
OK, divine energy. Got it. What I especially find interesting here is that even though it’s called the Light of Christ, it actually “proceeds from God through Christ” (emphasis added). So, to metaphorically illustrate what this might look like (though, maybe I’m way off): God could be compared to a generator, Christ would be the transformer and we (the universe and everything in it) would be the light bulb. Finally, the Light of Christ would be the electricity.
But it’s still a whole lot more than that.
The Light of Christ as your conscience
Here’s a quote from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s talk, The Unspeakable Gift:
As the sun gives life and light to the earth, a spiritual light gives nourishment to our spirits. We call this the Light of Christ. The scriptures teach us that it “lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Thus, all mankind can enjoy its blessings. The Light of Christ is the divine influence that allows every man, woman, and child to distinguish between good and evil. It encourages all to choose the right, to seek eternal truth, and to learn again the truths that we knew in our premortal existence but have forgotten in mortality.”
Elder Wirthlin highlights here that the Light of Christ allows people to distinguish between good and evil. Notice that he doesn’t use the word choose, but distinguish. The power to choose between good and evil is that whole agency thing (more on this later). What Elder Wirthlin seems to be talking about is more like one’s conscience. In fact, LDS Topics backs up that thought:
Conscience is a manifestation of the Light of Christ, enabling us to judge good from evil. The prophet Mormon taught: “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. … And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged” (Moroni 7:16, 18).
So, the Light of Christ is God’s divine energy that gives us life, consciousness and allows us to distinguish between good and evil. But wait, there’s more…
Is the Light of Christ visible?
Take a look at this clip/quote from Elder David A. Bednar’s Patterns of Light, Part One:
As we yield to that influence to do good and become good, then the light of Christ increased within us. As we disobey, light is decreased and can ultimately be diminished.
Whoa. OK. So the Light of Christ is something that can increase and decrease. We can get more of it, or lose it. According to Harold B. Lee, the light never goes away completely (unless we really screw up), but Satan does his best to hide it from us:
That light never entirely goes out … [speaking of the Light of Christ] unless we commit the unpardonable sin. Its glow may be so dim that we can hardly perceive it, but it is there for us to fan into a flame that shall burn brighter with understanding and with knowledge.
[Side note: It’s comforting to know that even though “the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man,” the gentle flicker of the Light of Christ will always be there—even during something as devastating as the Great Apostasy.]
President Joseph Fielding Smith adds:
This other Spirit is impersonal and has no size, nor dimensions; it proceeds forth from the presence of the Father and the Son and is in all things. We should speak of the Holy Ghost as a personage as ‘he’ and this other Spirit as ‘it,’ although when we speak of the power or gift of the Holy Ghost we may properly say ‘it.’
Elder Bruce R. McConkie adds more:
There is a spirit—the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ—that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon.
Knowing that it defies mortal comprehension makes me feel better about not understanding it better, but I sure wish I could. Elder McConkie continues, saying that the Light of Christ…
…is the agency of God’s power; it is the means and way whereby ‘he comprehendeth all things,’ so that ‘all things are before him, and all things are round about him.’ It is the way whereby ‘he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.’
Elder McConkie has already told us that the Light of Christ has no agency to act for itself. Therefore, the use of the word agency in this quote should probably be defined as a “thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved.” But I digress.
So, we know the Light of Christ has no form, dimensions, size, etc. but, is the Light of Christ visible to the human eye? Well, if it literally gives “light and life” to the universe, then any form of light we see could be attributed to a manifestation of the Light of Christ.
But what about that Mormon Glow everyone talks about? Sometimes you can look at a passerby’s face and you just know that person is living right, right? Is that the Light of Christ that you’re seeing?
There’s no definitive, scientific answer (though, personally, I say yes), but there’s some interesting research out there worth taking into account. Check out this article or this article, which cite research saying that something about Mormon skin texture makes them more recognizable in a crowd. The researcher attributes this to health benefits from living the Word of Wisdom, but could it be more than that?
Additionally, this article cites research stating that the human body literally emits light, which is pretty cool. The author makes a strong case for how this might relate to the Light of Christ.
How is the Light of Christ different from the Holy Ghost?
Elder Wirthlin reminds us that, unlike the Light of Christ, “the Holy Ghost is a personage of Spirit, a separate and distinct member of the Godhead. He is a witness or testifier of the power of God, the divinity of Christ, and the truth of the restored gospel.”
According to this talk by President Boyd K. Packer from 2005, the Light of Christ is always present and available, to some degree, to anyone on the planet. The Holy Ghost can visit anyone, but the gift of the Holy Ghost is only available to those who qualify through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
In fact, Elder Wirthlin says the influence of the Light of Christ is “preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost.” But the two also work hand in hand, as Elder McConkie emphasizes:
The Spirit of Christ (or Light of Christ) is the agency through which the Holy Ghost operates.
Note our new definition of agency here as well.
Here’s what we know about the Light of Christ:
- The Light of Christ is divine power or energy.
- It comes from God, through Christ.
- It is everywhere and in everything, though quantity varies.
- Conscience is a manifestation of the Light of Christ.
- It has no agency, form or personality in and of itself. It is an ‘it’.
- The Light of Christ allows God to be omniscient and omnipresent.
- It allows everyone on earth to distinguish between good and evil.
- The Holy Ghost uses it as a tool.
- It nourishes our spirits.
Here’s how it differs from the Holy Ghost:
- The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.
- The Holy Ghost cannot be everywhere at once.
- Access to the Holy Ghost is only constant in accordance to your obedience, unlike the Light of Christ which is available to everyone at all times.
- The Holy Ghost has free agency.
I still don’t know the origin story of the Light of Christ. I don’t know what it’s made of or how exactly the Holy Ghost uses it. There’s still plenty to learn about this “incomprehensible” subject, but we do know this:
Everyone has access to the Light of Christ. No matter your skin color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or politics, God has mercifully given every single one of his children this invaluable tool. It’s meant to lead His children back to Him, and that’s pretty cool.