For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. [1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (KJV)]
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul wrote of seeing a blurred reflection in a mirror. While the reflection in my mirror might be a bit depressing, it is somewhat cruel with the clarity of what it reveals. Mirrors in Biblical times, however, were usually made of polished bronze and their reflections were hazy. When the first Bibles were translated into English, “glass” as in “looking glass,” was commonly used for the word mirror. As a result, several later Bible translations turned that flawed looking glass into a blurry window or a clouded windowpane. The Greek words Paul used, however, were dia spektrou which meant “by means of a mirror.” With a mirror, we are seeing ourselves; with window glass, we are looking out and seeing others.
At first I thought the proper translation was necessary to understand that verse. Then I looked at the more important (yet easily overlooked) word: “darkly.” Paul isn’t speaking of a poorly lit room that would make it difficult to see in any sort of mirror. He’s speaking of our human limitations. The literal translation of the Greek words used, in aenigmate, mean “in a riddle” or “an enigma.” Whether we’re looking at an imperfect mirror or through a smoky window, what we’re seeing is incomplete and distorted. Like the outer edge of a puzzle, it is unfinished. What we’re able to perceive is just an outline, a hint, a rough sketch, of what is to come. Although God revealed Himself to us through His word and in Jesus, what we know of Him is neither easily explained nor clearly understood. In spite of having numerous translations of the Bible and countless scholars through the ages who’ve offered interpretations, commentary and clarifications, much is still left to conjecture. Because God and His plan are an enigma, there is a great deal we will never know, much less comprehend, this side of heaven. With our limited comprehension and flawed eyesight, we only catch a fleeting glimpse of Him now. Someday, however, we will see Him face to face and what was obscure will become clear when the darkness becomes light.
So, what do we do until then? How do we get through this puzzle called life with our incomplete knowledge and understanding? We do it with faith, hope and love!
The heavens shall be open, and I shall see the Son of man, the Son of God, and not see him at that distance…but see him, and sit down with him. I shall rise from the dead…for I shall see the Son of God, the sun of glory, and shine myself as that sun shines…and be united to the Ancient of Days, to God Himself. …No man ever saw God and lived. And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die. …As he that fears God, fears nothing else, so he that sees God, sees everything else. [John Donne]