“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB).
When I began following Christ, I dreamed of becoming a Christian rock musician. I have often thought that the perfect debut-album title would be “Through a Glass Darkly” (inspired by the King James version’s wording of the verse above). I recently tried to create a new blog here on WordPress with that name but, alas, others beat me to it. Maybe I will find a good alternative soon enough.
The concept that believers see “through a glass darkly” should encourage us. Questions often assault our faith: “Why? What are you doing to me, God? When will you do what I thought You would?” These are the questions that shake our faith, perhaps more so than the intellectual or philosophical challenges to our faith. The fact that we worship an unseen God, Who usually chooses to work in subtle ways, is perhaps the greatest challenge to our faith.
Faith grows as we go from knowing about God to knowing Him personally. This forces us to stretch and strengthen our spiritual muscles as we seek to see Him “through a glass darkly.”
Knowledge is Not Power, but the Love of God is Powerful
The last few years have been a long lesson in learning to accept the fact that, no matter how smart I think I am or how much I study the Bible, my knowledge will always be deficient. I am learning to accept that as a blessing. God is not looking for knowledge as much as He is looking for His holiness to be manifested in my life. Any knowledge about Him is intended to foster a relationship with Him. For example, I grow more by discerning Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, than I do by trying to analyze how the bread and wine can be His body and blood.
First Corinthians 13:12 appears near the end of one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, Paul’s famous discourse on love. In that passage, Paul emphasizes that love is much more important than many of the “marks of spirituality” to which some Christians cling.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit? It is a blessing to speak in tongues, and one can be a blessing if he has the gift of prophecy or can reveal the deep mysteries of the faith to others. But, without love, it is just a lot of noise.
Faith? We need it for salvation; if we do not have faith in Jesus, we are lost. It is wonderful to have the sort of mountain-moving faith that tears down strongholds and prays miracles of healing and other supernatural blessings down from heaven. Without love, though, I am nothing.
What about a self-sacrificing spirit? We should be eager to give sacrificially to those in need, and I admire those great men and women of faith who were willing to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel. But, without love, it profits them nothing.
Paul goes on to describe love (vv. 4-7). Next, he shows that it will last until the end of the age, and even into heaven, although other marks of spirituality will pass away (vv. 8-10).
When we get to heaven, there will be no seminaries: no job openings for theologians or philosophers. In fact, I am sure that theological debates and reflection will look pretty silly when Jesus is seated just a few feet away, right next to His Father. We will see them both in all of their glory. Philosophical discourse will be done. Exegesis and analysis of biblical passages will come to an end. Our deepest questions could probably be answered by turning to the throne and saying, “Excuse me, Jesus, I was wondering….” Just wait for the audible voice of God to answer.
Instead of debate, there will be devotion: eternal worship and praise to God, and direct fellowship with Him. Love will endure.
We Bear the Image of God, but It Is a Marred Image
In June 2010, Joyce and I were on a flight from New York to Florida, where we sat with a man from Italy. He was quite a talkative fellow, so we had a long conversation, which lasted most of the flight. On a few occasions, Joyce guided the conversation to spiritual matters. During a few of those discussions of God and faith, he referred to “the divine within us.” The belief in such a “divine within us” is quite common today, and is accepted by many who profess to be Christians. But, it is not a biblical or Christian notion: certainly not in the manner it is usually defined.
The Bible teaches that we are made in the image of God. Yet, that image is marred. It is like looking at a severely weather-beaten picture. Imagine finding an ancient fresco, buried under thousands of years of rubble and dirt in an ancient Roman village, depicting the face of a local dignitary. The image may show you what the man looked like, but you would have to scrape away centuries of dirt. A major restoration project would be required to restore the man’s image. Perhaps parts of the image are missing, and we have to guess what the rest of the image looks like.
Or, perhaps, we should imagine looking at our own image in a mirror. However, the mirror is hundreds of years old: cracked and covered with rust and dirt. We can glimpse a reflection in the mirror, but it is a dim reflection.
The great danger, when we try to understand God by relating to “the divine within us,” is that we are basing our awareness of God on a dim reflection, or a marred image. It is an image with pieces missing: a reflection that has been beaten, cracked, and distorted by the rust and grime of sin.
Our Perspective Is Limited By Our Imperfections
In addition to the corruption of our “image of God,” there is the limitation of our perspective. God is eternal; He existed before the beginning of time. We are not eternal; although we will live forever, each of us has an existence that began at a specific moment in time. God is omniscient (all-knowing). We are not, although sometimes we act like know-it-alls.
Our finiteness gives us a limited view of God and His purposes. I can think of no greater example of this than Job. The Old Testament book of Job tells the story of a man who served God faithfully. As a result, Satan accused God of being unjust: after all, Satan reasoned, Job only served God because He blessed him. To prove that Job’s faith was genuine, the Lord allowed the devil to afflict Job. In one day, Job lost almost everything that mattered to him: his possessions, children, and a host of other things. Next, Satan took his health. It seemed like all Satan left for Job was a nagging wife and some self-righteous judgmental friends.
After Job and his friends had engaged in a prolonged argument about why God allowed this suffering, God decided to answer Job’s questions:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,
“Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge?
Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,
Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who enclosed the sea with doors When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’?” (Job 38:1-11).
Job felt God was treating him unfairly and wanted God to explain why He was doing this. His friends had other suggestions for his suffering: perhaps Job was harboring a secret sin which God needed to judge; or Job was proud and needed a swift kick in the butt.
God did not answer Job’s questions directly. Instead, He pointed out that He has a much broader perspective than Job could even imagine. When our faith is shaken by unanswered questions, we should take comfort that, even if we do not understand everything, God knows all. God’s answer to Job lasts several chapters, during which He points out how He is concerned with the intimate details in the lives of all His creatures. God is concerned about the most mundane creatures on our planet. He is also concerned about the most mundane details of our lives. Does He care? Yes, He does. Can He answer our questions? Yes, He can. Are we ready to hear the answers? We might think we are, but since we have such a limited perspective, maybe we should just trust Him.
After God pointed out how little Job understood, Job had his chance to respond:
Then Job answered the LORD and said,
“I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-5).
How often we need to hear Job’s confession and make it our own! How often we Christians, in our attempts to understand the Bible, twist it into something we can explain. Instead, we should say, “This is what it says. I cannot explain everything in there, but I know God is true. Someday, when I see Him face to face, I will understand.
How often do we try to explain God’s ways, but we do so in a way that justifies our own actions! How often we place God in a box that we can carry.
Instead, we should seek to know God as Job came to know Him. Instead of seeking to know about God, let us just come to Him by faith. Faith enables us to see through the glass darkly, glimpsing a shadow of God’s glory, with the assurance that there is more to love than we can imagine.