Question: "What does it mean that God is the Father of lights (James 1:17)?"
Answer: James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (NASB). The exact meaning of the term Father of lights in this passage is not clear from the text. However, we can assume some things based on other passages where God is referred to as “light.” First John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
In both passages, God’s essence and personality are equated with all that is “light.” In the Bible, darkness often symbolically refers to evil, sin, and corruption (e.g., John 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:4). Therefore, light represents goodness, honesty, purity, wisdom, glory, and love—everything that God is. First Timothy 6:16 also says that God “dwells in unapproachable light.” Revelation 22:5 promises that those who dwell with the Lord forever will not need other sources of light, because God Himself will be our light.
The term Father of lights could also contain a reference to the great lights of the heavens, such as the sun, moon, and stars. Some Bible versions, such as the NIV, have added the word heavenly as an adjective to lights, but this is not found in the original texts. The original manuscripts leave the word lights open to interpretation.
It would be reasonable to conclude that the title “Father of lights” in James 1:17 communicates the idea that God is the author of all that is not darkness. There is no sin or transgression in Him. Everything represented by light is exemplified by God. Integrity, loyalty, honor, glory, wisdom, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), compassion, and love are all qualities of God and examples of spiritual “light.” Physical lights, too, owe their existence to God: the starry heavens and the planetary kingdoms are all created by the Father of lights for His glory and purpose. As the Father of lights, God embodies all that is good and right. Just as God is love (1 John 4:16), so God is light (1 John 1:5). God does not merely possess love and light, as though they are qualities that can be taken away. God is love and light, which makes Him the Father and originator of all lesser lights.