Have you ever met someone in person after speaking to them remotely, perhaps on Zoom, Facetime or any of the other ways in which we now ‘meet’ people? As a social worker, this has happened to me quite a lot recently. My experience has been that you do have a reasonably accurate idea from remote meetings of what that person is like, but a personal meeting gives so much more depth and life. You see the way they move, the tone of their voice, and you see them in the context to which they belong.
I think that, if St Paul were writing today, he would say, “For now we see on a screen darkly, but then face to face” [I Corinthians 13:12].
I do not think that this is just about us seeing God. It seems that we see everything, and everyone, “through a glass [or a screen!] darkly”. How well do we really know those around us, even those who are closest to us? What would the world be like if we did see into their souls? How often have we looked at an animal, perhaps a loved pet, and wondered what is really going on behind those eyes? In this sinful world, it seems to me that God, in His goodness, has protected us from the full force of reality.
The poet Matthew Arnold writes of seeing a neglected gipsy child by the seashore. He can tell that this little child has already known suffering, and so much more pain is in store. Yet the child cannot know it, just as- despite all the false words of fortune tellers- God choses in His goodness to keep the future from us. Catching the child’s soul-searching gaze, Arnold writes:
“The Guide of our dark steps a triple veil
Betwixt our senses and our sorrows keeps…”
So ‘looking through a glass darkly’ is not just some malfunction, but a part of God’s protective plan for our lives. But it is now the whole of His plan.
St Paul continues that, one day, “shall I know, even as also I am known”. We shall step outside the Zoom conference of this world, and at long last see God, each other and the whole of His creation in the fresh living colours, sounds, and with every sense which now we cannot even imagine.
This reminds me of the beautiful hymn, “There is a land of pure delight”, which we sometimes sing on All Saints’ Day. The author, Isaac Watts, imagines us climbing high, like Moses looking at the Promised Land, beyond the reach of mist and gloom. We switch off the Zoom call to God and His heavenly kingdom,
“And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!”
God of Glory
Even in this sinful world you grant us glimpses of your radiance:
Give us faith so that we, in the company of all your saints, will travel through this dark world until the day when we stand before your dazzling presence,
And are lost in praise.