What Does “Now, We See Through a Glass Darkly” Mean?

 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 stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)

That is a frequent question that drives traffic to this blog. It is one of the perks of parking along  a little piece of the information highway, to get a peek inside the anxieties and conversations taking place amongst the streams of humanity whizzing by. But I am not a mere voyeur, I do pray a blessing for you on your travels! And if this question is all that troubles you, be of good cheer — here is your explanation. The ‘glass’  the writer describes here is actually a mirror. The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. And it was  the apostle Paul who wrote this famous passage from the Bible in a letter to a church in Corinth, which was famous for the manufacture of these kinds of mirrors. The images reflected in these brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors. They were seen Darkly.

Which, literally translated from the original Greek language in which he wrote, means, “in a riddle or enigma…that the revelation appears indistinctly, imperfectly.”  Paul is telling us that this is the  state of our knowledge of divine things–imperfect and incomplete. “Now I know in part,” Paul mourns.  There were limitations upon the knowledge even of Paul; only a part was seen. But wonderfully, it will not always be so. One glorious moment in the future every single human being on earth will suddenly face Him — Jesus! –without a veil, without obscurity, Face to Face!

Because, Then! When the murky image we are seeing is suddenly gone as we die, and the full revelation has come in the presence of Christ, what joy  for those who believe and have proclaimed during their earthly lives that the name of Jesus is the Name above all Names! What dread and fear for those who never knew the power of that Name that could have saved them from their terrible moment. Because in our hearts we know that God is like a magnificent and dread Light that would extinguish any darkness approaching Him — we only have to look at the awesome Universe He created! We only need to examine the intricate workings of our own human eye that observes the worlds surrounding us–we need only study the micro-universe of our own human brains. All of these things were created to inspire awe, and to trouble us, and motivate us to seek the maker of  these mysteries. And perhaps dear fellow traveler along the information highway — perhaps I have deeply troubled you, who innocently came here with a little bitty question about glass and darkness.  Now you have bigger questions, and you are trembling inside, because you know you are not ready to die yet. You are filled with fear because of all the darkness of all  of all the wrong things you have ever done, what the Bible calls sin. You know you are a sinner, and you are not ready for that dreadful moment of face to face.

Well, Paul has some wonderfully good news for you. He wrote this, that

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-12)

Jesus died for us sinners, us wrongdoers, because we cannot reach Heaven on our own merit. But maybe you argue that you aren’t a sinner, and those kinds of words are positively medieval. The Spoken Word Artist Propaganda explains why those ideas matter, here:

Jesus died to provide the only way to eternal life. Believing the Bible’s truth about Who Jesus is, and what He did, is to trust in Jesus as the Savior from sin and to follow Him as the Lord of life. Jesus leads and strengthens every believer through His Word, the Holy Bible, and prepares them to meet this glorious, but unapproachable “Father of Lights”.

I will pray for you to trust in the good gift of salvation from sins that that our loving Heavenly Father has provided in His Son Jesus, and that you will not believe your good deeds have made you ready to see Him face to face.  Because today might be the day when the door of Eternity opens to you. Are you filled with joy and peace at the prospect? I long to see Jesus face to face, and so did this  man, Roby Duke — who has gone to that place he sings about here, he “stepped through the door, where time is no more…” He died suddenly of a heart attack just  four days after this was recorded. Prophetically, tenderly, exquisitely, he sings here, “I Shall See God.”   I urge you to bow your head to Him now, in thanksgiving and worship, while it is still today!

9 Comments on “What Does “Now, We See Through a Glass Darkly” Mean?”

  1. Deborah Burdette Says:

    I pray for all my brothers and sisters to come to know the one true God so that one day there will truly be “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” Ephesians 4:5 so/and “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Amen, Deborah!

      I hope you don’t mind that I shortened your comment, somewhat. Perhaps it is time for you to open your own blog? WordPress is really easy, I highly recommend it as a blogging platform!

  2. I have a weird feeling that there is not much love in your heart for anyone but God, no offence, just a feeling after reading it, especially connected with this particular passage talking about love we should have for others, absolute love, not condemnation. I know you mean well, but give a lil’ love.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      You are so right! Practically every moment of every day I am face to face with the fact that I fall so short of the perfect love described in this passage that is only perfectly lived out in the life of Jesus. This realization was pivotal in changing my life forever when, “on on March 13, 1983. Visiting my sisters’ church, I heard for the first time 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter in the Bible describing unconditional love, and I knew then that I was not the good person I thought I was. I did not have the least bit of love in me. The Bible on my lap was opened by the finger of God to Psalm 139. I read,

      Where shall I go from your Spirit?
      Or where shall I flee from your presence?
      If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
      If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

      I was face to face with a perfect God who perfectly loved me, and was showing me that I fell short of this perfect standard of love.

      “My ideas of God as an impersonal force who started up the universe but then left it, and me in it, all alone, were destroyed with the magnificence of the revelation of the omniscient One who was knocking and bidding me open the door. I did open the door of my heart, and I was captivated by the beauty of the One who shone there in all His glory. I was convicted He was the Truth, and that I was a wretched wrongdoer who needed His Life, and must follow His Way, and not my own. I was forgiven for my rebellion against Him, and felt the burden of my sins lift away. I was filled at that moment with His Spirit, so pure and clean, that when I tried to smoke a cigarette later I could not, because it felt like it clouded the purity I could palpably sense. I was truly a new creature. I had looked upon Him and I was radiant…” (from https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/about/)

      I seek every day to be like my Lord Jesus, Patrick, and I agree with you I fall woefully short. I am so glad he forgives me, and I am so comforted that one day when I do see Jesus face to face, I “shall be like him, for (I) shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) And at last, I will love perfectly, the way He does!

      Patrick, how about you? Have you received Jesus’ forgiveness for all the ways you fall short in love?

  3. Claudia hodder Says:

    Thank you, heartfelt, beautiful, I sang with him as he wanted us to,so much love and tenderness. Your comments on the KJV quote well done, we lost a dear soul.

    • Karen Butler Says:

      Thank you, Claudia, what an encouragement your comment was to me. For many months this thread sat commentless, and then there was Patrick’s observation about my seeming lovelessness, and I was a bit nonplussed. And shortly thereafter there was your ‘cup of cold water’ — such good timing!

      And yes we lost a treasure to the church when Roby Duke died. I thank God for that recording. I still weep when I sing along, and yes, it still fills me with longing for eternity. What a holy moment it captures!

  4. […] There is a post here that discusses it’s history.  […]

  5. Carole Says:

    Thank you for your explanation on the wonderfully discriptive , through a glass, darkly, like so many chosen words these are perfect.

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