Now I see through a glass darkly
by Brian C. Thompson
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‘Now I see through a glass darkly, but then…’
The problem does not lie in what we don’t know. That simply means we are human. And anyone who knows that he does not know, has only to take to heart the instruction of James.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 NIV)
What we don’t know, God can teach us. It is when we don’t know that we don’t know that we are really in trouble. Because it means we feel no need to be taught. And an unwilling pupil learns slowly, if at all.
The part of the truth we have seen shines like a jewel and we are impressed both with its beauty and with the fact that we have found it. The part of the truth we have not seen, remains buried in the mines of God, whose wisdom and righteousness lie waiting to be discovered by those driven by a hunger to find them. We should prize the truth we have. But we will not descend repeatedly into the narrow shafts away from the easy sunlight, unless we are possessed of a certainty that there is more we must know.
The child does not know the value of what lies in their hand. Their eyes are full of wonder at its curious shape and shiny appearance. The full-grown know what they hold. But the truly wise understand that what they have yet to discover, might outshine everything they have found so far.
Confidence in what we have, will affirm our relationship with God, add joy to our experience of Christ and enable us to act at the Holy Spirit’s direction by the obedience of faith. The results, as for Peter and John outside the temple, can be astonishing. (Acts 3:6) But nothing will drive us deep into God’s riches, except a hunger to find them. A hunger that will never touch us, unless we know that we do not know.
Was there a man who had so clear a sight of who Jesus Christ was, as Paul? What he saw on the road to Damascus, drove normal sight from him, but opened his life to the truth about who the Lord was. It shone in on him with such piercing clarity that years later, though ostracised, stigmatised and imprisoned, he was able to say,
“Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed.” (2 Tim. 1:12 NIV).
This same man still carried a hunger, yet to be satisfied. For all the wisdom, insight and knowledge he was given, his was the cry of the perpetually dissatisfied; of the man who knew that he didn’t know. With a passion that remained unchanged and undiminished to the end of his life he declared,
“I want to know Christ…” (Phil. 3:10. NIV).
Truth is a living thing. It must keep growing. Nothing I will discover can threaten or undermine that which I have discovered. So long as it was discovered in God in the first place of course! But anyone who believes that just because they have tasted the truth, they have all the truth, is like someone filling their cupped hands from the wave that washes across the beach. Truly the sea is in their hands. But what is in their hands is not the sea.
The moment the truth we know becomes more important than the truth we do not know; at that point we have locked the door of the safe on our accumulated discoveries and said, ‘That’s it, I have enough; nothing remains of any consequence for me to learn.’ Then we will spend the rest of our lives defending what we have; not discovering what we have not.
What are the results of this attitude? Plainly it robs us of a richer, deeper knowledge of God. That means we are poorer than we need to be. But our confident assurance that beyond the horizon, lie no more undiscovered lands to be found, is an even greater threat. It breeds in us the certainty that we do not need to pursue any further the voyage of discovery we were once so eager to begin. The certainty that we do not need to be taught will keep us out of the classroom and that is a tragedy. Because the classroom is where the Holy Spirit reigns. It was after all Jesus himself who said,
“…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things…” (John 14:26 NIV)
Though a lifetime of scholarly research on truth and its meaning would be well-spent, this is no mere intellectual pursuit. In the search for truth, what is required is not strength of mind but humility of mind. There is a clear link between our attitude to the truth and our ability to profit by it. If we believe we have grasped it all – or at least as much as any man needs in order to go through this world with God – then we make it almost impossible for God to teach us. The act of learning requires the fact of needing to learn.
Living in the truth we have discovered, builds a holy dependence in the power of him who revealed it to us. Living in the knowledge that more remains to be discovered, builds a healthy dependence on the Holy Spirit which will safeguard our relationship with Jesus. But living as if the truth we have is all that we need to know, builds self-righteous independence. It will be uncomfortable with a spirit of dependence and impatient of the classroom. Eventually, if God cannot shatter this self-confidence, we will end up using the truth we know, to fight the truth we do not know. The truth we will become increasingly persuaded we do not need to know.
Too late we will discover that arrogance and ignorance are a fearful combination. They lead to us being most sure, when we are most surely wrong!
What we know will get us into the kingdom. What we do not know may not cost us our salvation, but it may well cost us everything else.
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Brian- Thank you for the great amount of thought that you place in your articles and your very specific and pertinent biblical references. Surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit is a continuous process and explained very elegantly in this piece.
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