A Glass Darkly
“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…” – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
A cartoon shows a pastor meeting with the chairperson of the church council. Behind them on the wall a chart shows the levels of congregational giving. It goes along steadily, then drops straight down and out of sight. The chairperson says to the pastor, “I think it began right around the time you started ending every sermon with ‘But then, what do I know?'”
Funny, yet the premise is odd. It assumes that ministers ought to have all the answers and speak with great authority, and that it’s unsettling when they don’t. But we’re on firmer ground when humility is the norm. The occasional bemused shrug from the pulpit is a gut check and a gift. And not just from the pulpit, but also at home, at work, and in the public square, where self-assured pontificating is the stifling name of the game.
We do know many things. Some are even worth saying. But because everything we know is partial, approximate, and incomplete, a more tentative style would seem to be in order. I wonder if our faith would be more authentic, our relationships more transparent, our civic life more livable, and maybe even our church giving increase if we weren’t so darned sure of things; if instead we offered what we know with heads bowed, on bended knee.
Because it’s an act of worship, this humility; a confession of truth from finite creatures: Now we see in a mirror dimly. It’s only later that we’ll know. And when we finally know, we’ll likely be surprised.
When I speak, let it be from my knees. When I offer what I know, may it be humbly, as if in grateful praise.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.