This past week, I finished what has easily been the most difficult semester of my college/general schooling career thus far. *CUE WEEPING TEARS OF JOY *.One of my finals required us to creatively unpack a popular biblical text: 1 Corinthians:1-13, or, as I like to refer to it, that one passage that everyone centers their marriage ceremony around. Anyways, I just got my grade back for this class, and LORD ALMIGHTY I got an A. *CUE WEEPING TEARS OF JOY ROUND TWO*. I thought I’d post the short story/ essay that I turned in for the final in celebration or this momentous event. So yes! Enjoy!
When I was young, I was too short to see my reflection in mirrors that towered above me. I would look at my parents as they stood in front of them, smiling at the reflections they saw, and though I marveled at this sight, I quickly revert back to playing. The mirrors, after all, were too tall for me to see into.
As I grew taller, the mirrors seemed to shrink. I began to see my forehead, and then my eyes, and then my head breach across the bottom. I discovered that I rather enjoyed looking at myself. When I talked, I looked in control, like an adult. Like my parents.
The day I was finally tall enough to see myself in the mirrors that surrounded me, I too did what the adults before me had done. I smiled. In my reflection, I could see everything. And no one could tell me that what I saw wrong, because it was my own world reflecting back on me.
I began to bring other people to my mirror. “Don’t you see?” I would ask them. “Look at my mirror and the world it contains!” They would laugh and show me their mirrors in response, which seemed only to contain reflections of the people staring into them.
Obviously, I could see that their mirrors were faulty. I berated them, attempting to correct their erroneous thinking. “But look at my mirror,” I would beg, for their sake. “Mine is correct!”
I finally stepped back, one day, when my voice had finally worn from shouting. I looked into my mirror, and instead of the world, I saw merely my own reflection, my red face, my bloodshot eyes. All along, I had been so certain that my mirror had held the answers, when in reality, all it contained was me.
A bit of context:
“If I speak in tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing…
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 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. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
-1 Corinthians 13:1-3,8-13 (NRSV)
The more educated I become, the more I realize that I, quite frankly, know nothing at all. The passage in 1 Corinthians speaks to this, and to the enigma of the world and of existence. Libraries are filled with books explaining the nature of everything. Churches preach messages that aim to erase any trace of doubt from the wandering mind. People shout and spar, attempting to show the rest of the world that they, indeed, have all the answers.
These tendencies, I think, sprout from the desire to not be inadequate. When we realize our own inferiority, our own minute place in the world, the desire to explain it and control it becomes overwhelmingly alluring. This is not to say that knowledge is bad. On the contrary, learning had helped me realize the marvelous grandeur of everything I will never understand. The enigmatic riddle of life attests to this, and that our mirrors only show us a mere fragment of what is to come.
In verse 12 (“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”), there is a common mistranslation in the word “dimly.” Perhaps it’s not necessarily wrong, but the real meaning behind the word is so much deeper than “dim.” The verse more accurately should say something along the lines of “For now we see in a mirror, a mysterious riddle…” or something along those lines. Life, as we often view it in the present, is so complex and tangled and confusing. This future Paul speaks of is a clear one- one that finally and fully shows not a reflection, but a true image of life.
And thus, the passage ends with verse 13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Faith, hope, and love abide. Not knowledge, or prophecies, or tongues- all three of which have a tendency to foster the antitheses of love (and, ironically, all three of which seem to be on the forefront of the church’s mind these days).
We can fight, and yell, and scream, and punch over our ideologies and what is “right,” but in the end, when all is finally stripped away, love, and love only, abides.