You remember those hilarious carnival mirrors that were bent and warped and made your reflection look like the Incredible Rubber Man? I’m a grown man and I still love those things. They make my head look huge and my belly look even bigger. (Oh, whoops, that one’s just the regular mirror!) But the crazy-mirrors are great — they never fail to make me and my children laugh out loud.
But the problem is, when it comes to personal self-reflection and thoughtful introspection, the only tool I’ve got is a crazy-mirror. It’s the only tool any of us have. None of us are very good at seeing ourselves (our true selves) accurately. We distort our self-image. We either look bloated or dwarfed. Our reflective judgement is perpetually skewed so that we either appear too big in our own eyes or too small. And like a crazy-mirror, the distortion is not consistent: our heads are too small and our hips are too big, or its the other way around. And I’m not talking about our physical features, I’m talking about our hearts and character — our internal motives and attitudes. We try to evaluate ourselves impartially, but the notion is as untenable as fixing your neck-tie in a carnival mirror: it inevitably ends up skewed. And that’s the problem: all I’ve got is a crazy-mirror.
I think that is exactly what Paul was talking about when he said:
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:9-12)
Read verse twelve again:
For now we see in a mirror dimly … but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
For a long time I interpreted this passage to mean that, right now, what we see dimly is God (as in: we only see Him through darkened glass). But the more I look at the context of this statement, the more it appears that what Paul may really be talking about here is his own faculties of self-estimation. He’s not talking about some window into Heaven — he’s talking about a mirror. Earlier in this chapter he describes the people who evaluate themselves based on external criteria (gifts, charisma, philanthropy, etc). But in terms of accurate self-evaluation, he asserts: they’re doing it wrong. Their thinking is skewed. It’s “childish”. When I was a child, my think was screwed up (ok, well. . . unrefined). The adjective Paul uses to describe our mirrors (translated “dimly”), literally means “obscured”; the english word “enigma” is derived from it. He is saying there is something dreadfully wrong with my mirror: it’s broken or bent or even deceptive. But (Paul seems to imply), the closer I get to the Lord, and the more His “perfect” invades my life, the more I will know myself. Someday (surely not until Heaven), I will finally know “as I am known“. I will see myself and understand myself as He does. Until then I just need to get closer and closer to Him.
I heard a fantastic story a few days ago that describes this situation perfectly. Bill Farrel was on the radio with his wife, Pam. He recounted the time early in their marriage when he found his wife staring in the mirror after a shower and criticizing her body. As she continued to point out more and more “shortcomings”, he became desperate to interrupt the downward spiral. Just then an idea hit him that he says could only have come from the Lord. He walked up to her and lovingly wrapped his arms around her. And then he said,
Stop. From now on, I will be your mirror. My eyes will reflect your beauty. You are beautiful, Pamela. You are perfect. And if you ever doubt it, come stand before me. The mirror of my eyes will tell you the true story. And if I have to break every mirror in the house to get you to believe me, I will! From now on, let me be your mirror. 1
Not only was that a fantastically awesome husbandly thing to do, it was also a fantastic picture of how the Lord wants to fix (or replace) our own crazy-mirrors. When I see Him “face to face”, then I will know. The more I see Him, the more I will understand myself correctly.
The Farrel’s story is also a salient reminder of how critically important it is that we surround ourselves with wise and loving friends who will speak truth into our lives, and into whose lives we can speak truth. I am unspeakably grateful for the small group of guys I meet with every Friday morning. They know me, they love me, and they have permission to tell me anything they want. They are the type of guys who aren’t afraid to say, “Hey, you got somethin’ hanging out of your nose.” And you know what? That’s exactly what I need.
Because crazy-mirrors just don’t cut it.