In a Mirror Dimly
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
It should probably not be a surprise that one of the most profound statements in the Bible, in my opinion, is found in the “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Paul writes that during our life on earth we “see in a mirror, dimly.” While this may not be obvious, it explains a lot – not just about love, but about life in general. The reality is that our vision is inadequate for making sense of much that happens in life. We often find our circumstances shrouded in mystery and beyond our ability to understand. How can a loving God allow the awful events that happen on a daily basis? We cannot see directly or clearly to the essence of what underlies the experience.
Paul’s reference to seeing in a “mirror” is particularly interesting. Wikipedia indicates the first actual mirrors (as opposed to water reflections or polished metals) would have appeared about the time of Paul. But the image in even the best of mirrors is not an identical recreation. We call it a mirror image because everything is reversed – the right side is now left, foreground and background switch positions, we reach toward our image but our image reaches back from the opposite direction and with the opposite hand. Even so, a mirror gives us an image or likeness of what we are observing, albeit an imperfect and partial glimpse. Unless, as Paul explains, we see “dimly.” When our vision is clouded by a lack of focus, the image we see is an even less reliable likeness of reality. Of course, the creation story says we were created in the image of God. For me, this adds another intriguing element to the concept of seeing “in a mirror, dimly.”
Dimness can result from poor light, a dirty lens, or an image being out of focus – all of which may apply to our earthly lives. As we consider love, a limited or poorly focused view of love will result in a limited understanding of what love is and what love is not.
All of this helps to explain why our experiences of love on earth do not always live up to the expectations created by the Bible, not to mention movies, novels, and fairy tales. When we see and experience love “in a mirror, dimly,” we only gain an approximation of the enormity and inclusiveness of love at its core. We catch a glimpse of the reality, our brains compensate accordingly and convince us we have seen it all, when in fact we have only seen in part. When we rely only on our earthly senses to gage love, we will forever be disappointed. We must also see through the eyes of faith and with an optimistic hope.
Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.