07 September 2015

Maintaining Trust When God’s Ways Seem Inscrutable, Part 2: Reflection vs. Reality

“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. 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.” I Corinthians 13:12 

In the verse above, from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the relatively new church members in Corinth, he used an analogy that was particularly meaningful to them when he described how we  understand God and his ways. That analogy becomes clearer for 21st century English speakers if we know that the words translated into English as “glass” and “darkly” have slightly different meanings in the original Greek. “Glass” meant a looking-glass, or mirror, many of which were manufactured in Corinth out of polished brass. Those mirrors often revealed a distorted or discolored image of the thing being reflected. The Greek words translated as “darkly” meant “in a riddle or puzzle, by an enigma.”[1]  Paul’s analogy helped the Corinthians resolve questions that were creating disunity in their congregation. I believe it can help us, in our day, to deal with questions about spiritual matters that some find puzzling, or even disquieting.

We often wish we could understand absolutely everything about certain revelations given to church leaders, or given to us as personal revelation. We would like to have all the gospel principles and church practices (both present and past) perfectly explained. But an overview of Heavenly Father’s communication with his children during this earthly probation reveals that it has usually been a matter of God giving us line upon line, precept upon precept. He corrects misconceptions and mistakes both gently and firmly from time to time. But, just as earthly parents allows their children to learn to walk by letting go of their hands, God often lets us stumble, fall, and get up repeatedly as we work out better ways to put into practice the principles he reveals. That seems to be the best way for Him to allow us full moral agency, as well as to grant us the privilege of using our minds to learn, to study and imagine, to discover, create, invent and build things that expand our capacities and enrich our lives. We are God’s children, with the potential to gradually grow to become like him, not his puppets enacting a detailed script with no provision for change.

Infants and toddlers are often frustrated to the point of tantrums because they are as yet incapable of understanding many things about the world into which they were so recently born. As adults, do we sometimes forget that compared to our Father in Heaven, we are still very young in terms of our capacity to understand all that God knows? We can be tempted to criticize church leaders, doctrines, policies or programs, if we come to view them as not in harmony with our particular interpretation of what is just, or right. Can Paul’s analogy help us more willingly accept that some things will only become clear when we are no longer seeing them, as it were, in a flawed mirror?

Because during our mortal probation truth is sometimes revealed only in part, in the form of a riddle or a puzzle, or in the form of an enigma (as parables were given by Christ to the multitudes), I hope and pray for the humility to remember that even though I may think I see certain things of God very well, because my mirror has imperfections, I may actually be seeing a very poor reflection of the real thing.

My understanding of spiritual things and my trust in God seem to continually reinforce each another. Because my comprehension of many doctrines and policies which I once found enigmatic has grown significantly as I have studied and prayed about them, I trust that God will grant me more light and knowledge in the future. I know enough to want to know more, and to try to follow the Savior, Jesus Christ.

My growing knowledge, many answered prayers, and all the good I see coming from obeying commandments and following the counsel of latter-day prophets, are things that increase my trust in God’s infinite beneficence, and enable me to be at peace with what I still find inscrutable. I look forward in faith to that joyful day when we can cast all imperfect mirrors away, because “that which is perfect is come.”[2]

[1] http://linguistics.byu.edu/classes/ling450ch/reports/greek2.html
[2] I Corinthians 13:10

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