For now we see “through a mirror dimly”

In his first letter to Corinth, St. Paul affirms that we humans fail to see  “the whole truth” when it comes to issues in our world.  He writes in 13:12 that we see as if we are looking in a “dim mirror.”

Growing up in the midst of a multicultural community, I can testify that Paul is on to something: There are two (or more) sides to every story.

When I entered college, I was not entirely sure what I wanted to study.   At first I wanted to be an artist so I could paint things that I could see from all sorts of perspectives.  Then there was the legal field, in which I could argue cases from different points of view.  There there was journalism, a field that helps people hear the truth in the first place.

Although none of these fields worked out, I noticed that one pattern emerged in all of these pursuits: Each of these fields seeks to discover truth in a multi-faceted, nuanced, and complex world.

I knew that my own perspective was limited; God’s world is so much bigger and so very interesting.  I ended up becoming a minister because I wanted to live in the midst of God’s mystery and nuance.

Paul’s words remind us that every perspective is limited to where we stand in life.  A person who grew up in a wealthy suburb, for instance, will not be able to see things like someone who grew up in lower-income urban housing.

Yet, we jump to conclusions all of the time when it comes to figuring things out.  We assume that when we know something–read something in the newspaper for instance–that we have a handle on all of the facts and can make an educated guess on the truth of a matter.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Even when many facts are in, we still won’t have the whole story.  It is up to an artist, lawyer, journalist, and, yes, preachers to give facts as they see them, but also make room for an audience to contribute their own experiences in order for conclusions to be made.

In ministry, I find it imperative to be open-minded about situations.  For example, if a spouse confides in me about, say, a failing marriage, I must remember that I am only getting one side of the story.  Or, if I hear about some church scandal in the news–and many church scandals there are!–I need to keep in mind that there is more to the story than what is in black and white.

A friend made me aware of that recently.  I was troubled over a few things I read in the newspapers of late, and I wanted to know whether or not I was “seeing the mirror clearly,” as it were.  Come to find out that I was seeing dimly after all.  I should have remembered my training in a criminal justice class I took in high school:  When it comes to court cases, the truth is always more complex than how it appears at first glance.

I fear that our political and religious climate takes truth for granted.  We cling to our opinions, and then we dig in our heels without acknowledging that our own point of view can be flawed.  Then, when new facts arise and those facts challenge our assumptions, we are too stubborn–too prideful–to change our minds.

We see this in politics often.  If a politician changes his or her mind, he or she is labelled a “flip-flopper.”  Woe to the politician who grows and matures and changes her mind on an issue!

We should take note of Paul’s words.  We will never know all of the story.  We can only seek greater understanding, and we are called to love one another whenever we fall short.  Love is the champion that overcomes even the dimmest of mirrors.

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