A Glass Darkly…
We just don’t see the full picture.
In my experience, Paul’s love poem is a favorite among two seemingly disparate groups of people: brides-to-be and seminarians. Ironically, seminarian brides-to-be probably never choose 1 Corinthians 13 for their weddings, but that’s neither here nor there. Brides-to-be tend to love the flowery language of it all: love is patient, kind, etc. Much has been written over the years on the contents of Paul’s love poem, and I won’t attempt to prepare a wedding homily for you here. Instead, I’d like to turn our attention to the bit seminarians love: the whole “seeing through a glass darkly” thing.
Seminarians love this part because it explains the inanities of seminary so well.
Q – Why do I have to be berated by my professors on a middler report?
A – You don’t have the big picture yet, it is as if you are seeing through a mirror dimly.
Q – Why do the GOEs feel like hazing?
A – Ahh, you are looking through a glass darkly.
Blah, blah, blah. I’m 99.9999% sure that the oddities of full-time-residential-mainline seminary education were not on Paul’s mind as he penned this hymn. Instead, what I think Paul is getting at is summed up in the picture taken by Dr. Charles Stang in my DMin class on Ancient Eastern Christianity.
This image is somehow a description of the poetry of Ephrem, don’t ask me to explain that part. What it does show is how humans (the center eagle) attempt to speak to, of, and understand God. Because we are only able to comprehend things based upon the world in which we live, we can not fully understand God, even as he was incarnate in Jesus. The words we use, the images we imagine, the theologies we pour over are our best attempts at encapsulating God, but they are merely mirror images of ourselves. Our best selves, we hope, but still, they are but human renditions of the almighty God.
That mirror image is what Paul speaks of at the tail end of his love poem. The hope he expresses, one that he and I share, is for that day when we see God’s glory fully. I would add the words of Jesus here, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Today, we see through a mirror dimly, but soon we shall seem him face-to-face. Amen.