Friday, May 16, 2014

Through a glass darkly

"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 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."
 - Paul the apostle, to the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 13:9-13)

It is difficult to imagine being more sure of your understanding of Christ than a man like Paul, having what he described as a literal encounter with Him where he was struck blind only to be given back his sight three days later when prayed for by a stranger sent to him.

Turning in both character and name from being the infamous Saul of Tarsus who imprisoned Christians and oversaw their public executions, to becoming Paul the apostle who would spread the gospel further than any other disciple, was the epitome of a redemption story.

It had to sting Peter a little when Paul publicly rebuked him for gradually being influenced to refuse to even eat at the same table as gentiles who called themselves Christians, but were uncircumcised.

It's awkward enough that one of the only documented meetings between Peter and Paul centered on the topic of whether or not church goers were snipped... down there.

But Peter had said he already had previously been personally confronted and chastised by the Lord for his hesitance to follow Jesus' original command to actually go into all the world and preach the gospel... and that included the gentiles.

And yet even after he realized his error and tried to correct it, someone far more unexpected and unqualified was being groomed to do just that.

So it had to be far more embarrassing for Peter to be exposed for his error by an ex-Pharisee like Paul.

Think about it.

It was bad enough the gospel was being broadcast much more far and wide by one who was not even an original friend and apostle of Christ like Peter... let alone it being spread by one like Paul who used to belong to the very religious order of Pharisees famous for helping orchestrate Jesus' trial and execution.

Apparently, even after having a powerful and life changing encounter with the Lord, the temptation is overwhelming to gravitate back to the false pride of being righteous through good works or spiritual gifts like Peter and the churches of Galatia and Corinth.

Before his conversion, Paul was a professional church goer, so to speak. He was a believer of the highest order. He spent his life in a temple observing every possible letter of the law, if not the spirit of it, while Peter spent most of his in a fishing boat.

So after his conversion, it was so much harder for Paul to fall to self righteousness and religious certainty and pride. That is what he had been saved from.

While most of us strive with our faith to reach a place of absolute certainty of who Christ is and what is truth or error, Paul could never forget what it was like to be struck blind and he famously wrote that we all can only see Him through a glass darkly.

Corinth was famous for their burnished mirrors and scholars still debate whether Paul spoke of looking through the typical uneven and distorted view of an ancient glass window or into the imperfect mirrors for which the city was famous.

We're so used to our modern, factory precision made windows and mirrors, we are not accustomed as people were for thousands of years to always seeing others and themselves through such distorted and flawed mediums.

So, sadly, the spiritual analogy is lost on many of us.

And like Peter, we quickly become so incredibly sure of perfectly seeing who God has condemned and who He has not.

Jesus spoke of two people who prayed in the temple, one with complete confidence and certainty and another too ashamed to even lift his head up while he prayed.

"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
 - Jesus (Luke 18:10-14)

Maybe Paul personally heard or read of this very parable of Jesus, as Luke was one of Paul's disciples and transcribers. And maybe Paul was guilty of being just like that Pharisee before his conversion.

I could never sing as literally as Paul that "once I was blind, but now I see".

But I have been blind, even long after I thought my eyes were opened. More than Paul. And more than Peter.

You see, I have prayed at so many different times as both the unsure publican and as the arrogant and utterly certain Pharisee.

It has taken me many years to admit that I do not see as perfectly as I once thought about all the many lost and supposedly condemned publicans praying beside me.

And it has taken me longer to realize that as hard as I will continue to ever strain to be like Him and as hard as I will try my best to see Him, it is for now still only through a glass darkly.

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