30 Juni 2010

Holding Daddy's Hand

We cannot see clearly as we try to peer into the future. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). It's not just that we see dimly, but that we see as in a mirror dimly. Seeing dimly is bad enough, but to see as in a mirror dimly suggests that we not only see poorly, but that we see backwards (arsy varsy). Mirror images are reversed. Right is left and left is right. The allusion to a mirror image suggests that we currently see things from an inverted or backwards or reversed perspective. In our perfection, in our maturity, this reversal of vision and values that has resulted from the Fall, from sin, will be corrected. The reversal of sin will itself be reversed, restored to its original order. But for now it remains as in a mirror dimly.

Our vision and our values are in need of correction. Of course, Christ has reversed the effects of sin in this present world, but not completely. And yet, Christ's victory is certain because it is the central purpose of God. It is so certain that we proclaim Christ's victory in history now. And we proclaim it as complete because we trust in the power of God to finish what He has begun.

The light of Christ not only brings additional illumination, but it brings about a reversal of vision and values. In Christ, our worldly values are turned upside down and inside out. In Christ everything is different, everything is new.

The allusion to seeing "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12) has a long biblical history that helps us understand what Paul meant by it. When God revealed Himself to Moses in the dessert, He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And what was Moses' response? He "hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" (Exodus 3:6). Later, Moses wanted to see God and asked, "Please show me your glory." And he said, 'I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name "The Lord." And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 'But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.' And the Lord said, 'Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen'" (Exodus 33:18-23).

This is the biblical context for Paul's phrase "when the perfect comes" (1 Corinthians 13:10) because it will come to reveal the face of God. Is this a contradiction because Moses wrote that no one could see God's face and live, while Paul wrote that we will see God face to face? Not at all. Christians are baptized in Christ. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

The regeneration -- the passing from death into new life -- that believers experience this side of glory is but a dark reflection of the resurrection that believers will experience in glory. Through regeneration believers do see God's face, but darkly. Regeneration begins the reversal of vision and values that works to undo the effects of sin, but that reversal takes more than a lifetime to complete to perfection. In the meantime, we still see God's face darkly, dimly, barely, in fits and starts, as in a mirror.

The vision of seeing God face to face, of seeing and being seen by God is awesome. We want to see God to satisfy our curiosity and to answer our questions. But there is another aspect of this face to face meeting that is threatening. We will not only see God, but we will be seen by God. Seeing is one thing, but being seen is another. Most people -- sinners -- want to see God like Peeping Toms. We want to see without being seen ourselves. We want to look on God, but we don't want God to look on us. But that is not how it works. In order to see, we must also be seen. So, what's the problem with being seen?

Shame, guilt and sin, that's what! We are afraid to be seen with all of our follies and foibles, all of our shame, guilt and sin. We'd be embarrassed. We don't want anyone to see this side of us, so we hide it. We cover it up however we can. We not only try to hide it from God, but we try to hide it from others, and even from ourselves. The problem with knowing fully is that we will also be fully known. "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But as scary as it is to think about being fully known, in the love of Christ we trust God. We trust that God loves us and has our best interests in mind. Being fully known by God, who loves us, is a little like being fully known by our spouse. Husbands and wives love each other and in this world they come as close as possible to being fully known by one another. That's why marriage is difficult. Nonetheless, that knowledge creates a bond, and the bond strengthens the love over time (at least that's the way it is supposed to work).

Faith, hope and love are braided into a "threefold cord" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) that is not easily broken. We're are not talking about the marriage bond here, but rather our covenant bond in Christ. This bond cannot be broken, and it will not be broken. Even if we fail on our side, God will not fail on His side. Even if God's love brings us through a time of discipline and chastisement, God will not renege on His covenant promises.

Faith and hope belong to us, to God's people. Our part, our responsibility regarding the covenant bond with God is to be faithful and hopeful. Our response to God's love is faith and hope. In contrast, love belongs to God. God's part is love, God leads with love. Oh, we love God, without a doubt -- because He "first loved us" (1 John 4:19). But it is not our love that holds us in covenant with God. Rather, we are held in covenant, in relationship with God, by His love. And His love will not fail. His love will not let us go, even if we lose our grip on God, God will not lose His grip on us. Even if our love for God grows pale and dim, God's love for us will not. God's covenant grip of love for His people will not fail. God, who is love itself, will not fail. God "who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Of this you can be sure.

And so Paul concludes, "faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).
by: Phillip Ross


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