Is there something more to life than we can see?
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
1 Cor. 13:12 "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
I find it curious and compelling that this verse, which the King James version of the Bible renders so poetically as "now we see through a glass darkly," is embedded in a discussion of spiritual gifts, and in particular, the spiritual gift of love. Paul declares that love is a "greater gift" and a "more excellent way," something followers of Jesus should strive for. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13, where this verse is found, Paul waxes poetic about love, coining some of scripture's most beautiful love language: he says that whatever spiritual gifts we might have--whether tongues, prophesy, understanding, faith, giving, service--amount to nothing if they are not exercised in a context of love. He writes, "love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
But what does love have to do with seeing, or with knowing?
The contrast Paul makes is revealing. Love never ends. BUT other things do end. Knowledge ends. Tongues end. Prophecy ends. These things all end because (as Paul says) they are partial, and The Partial is going to end! When the partial ends, The Complete will come. An analogy is made here to explain: it's like being a child--a child's way of seeing things is limited because a child's understanding and experience are partial. God has set up the world so that what we are able to see now of spiritual things is partial. We catch glimpses of spiritual things because we are created to see them. But it's like seeing dimly, in a mirror, or through a glass, like a child sees reality.
When The Complete comes, we will see God face to face. When The Complete comes, we will know fully, analogous to an adult way of knowing compared to a child's. In the meantime, even though our knowledge is partial and our seeing is as through darkness, we ourselves are fully seen and known by God, and this is to be our consolation while we wait for his Complete to come.
Often people want to give up on faith, or deny the existence of spiritual things, on the grounds that we can't see them. We can't know spiritual reality through the senses. Yes, we have to take it on faith or hope that the spiritual is real, that God is real.
Still, Paul connects here the hope of being fully known/seen by God and knowing/seeing more fully (later, as promised) with love in this world. All of the spiritual things of this world are mere hints of the greater, complete reality that is to come, EXCEPT love--which never ends and seems to exist in this world as a deep, foundational, great gift, given to us to draw us to God and to each other, for the time being. It is no accident that love is the "still more excellent way" according to Paul. This same love is Jesus' greatest commandment.
Like other spiritual things, we cannot see love directly. But as a universal human experience, love functions as a great gift given to us all for the purpose of pointing us all towards God and spiritual things. Yes, aside from love, we humans see spiritual things dimly. But there is so much more to this life than what we can see.