“Now we see dimly; then, face to face.”
Not, perhaps, the most utilized portion of I Corinthians 13 at the ubiquitous summer wedding – but oddly, one of my favorite parts of the familiar chapter. It seems to distill the essence of faith: trust that we will eventually see “face to face” what we now discern only dimly, in fragments and sketches.
“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Do we really believe we can know in part now? Postmodern instincts have eroded much of the basic confidence necessary to make simple statements of what we know; not what we believe, but what we know. If we can know, not fully, but truly – then we have that glimpse of the reflection.
What will we see face to face? The mysteries of the atom? Perhaps. A headcount of mysterious sea creatures inhabiting Loch Ness? (Fingers crossed.) Or the knee-bending, earth-shattering reality of Glorious Love? Of Triune Love, in all its glory? We get tantalizing hints of holy glory, sneak peeks of thunderous love and galaxy-spinning Triune chuckles. The book of Revelation teases us with vibrant portraits of the cacophonous zoo that is heaven – or is it Eden? No, and yet – paradise.
Glory is a concept a bit neglected by 21st century Americans – nonbelievers and faith-followers alike. We’ve been Goodyear-blimped and hyped and wowed and spectacled. Conversely, we’ve been flooded by dystopian literature that has all the arresting charm of London’s post-war architecture. We’ve dissected ourselves in the flickering light of the basement morgue and labeled the result “monster” (vampire, anyone?). We may be impressed or depressed but rarely awed.
And that’s where love comes in. Love, the gateway to awe. Awe – the suspicion of glory. Holy love – beating from the heart of the Trinity, sacrificing itself and leaving awe in its wake, awe opening our minds to the possibility of unforeseen glory.
Imagining glory keeps us human. To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that results in plain, sunburned lips uttering “truly this was the Son of God!” To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that cauterizes and compels:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
We need to discipline ourselves to notice glimpses of glory; these close encounters are a means of grace.