1 Corinthians 13:9-12 “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
This is not an evaluation that my pride likes to hear. Though in theory we may admit that we don’t know everything, in practice we tend to forget it. We easily fall into making sweeping generalizations and drawing universal conclusions based upon the relatively thin slice of knowledge even the smartest of us possesses. Isn’t that why so much of so-called “modern science” is in such a mess?
Even our Bible knowledge is only partial knowledge of God and his will. It may be accurate knowledge. It may be useful knowledge. It may be saving knowledge. But it isn’t everything there is, only what God has chosen to reveal.
And don’t we struggle to comprehend the most fundamental truths God has revealed–Father, Son and Holy Spirit as One God; God becoming a man in the person of Jesus Christ; God’s promises of daily bread and protection when so much human experience seems to contradict them? “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
In its present, incomplete form this knowledge, too, is passing away. It is not like the greater knowledge of heaven to follow. Because this is hard for us to get, Paul supplies three illustrations to help us. First, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Many of the things we knew as children were not false. They were just profoundly incomplete. That fragmentary information of our childhood isn’t always very useful for the way we view things and behave as an adult.
As a child I knew that my toys were my toys. Believe me, I knew the word “mine” well. As an adult, I still know what it means that something is mine. But I also know what it means to be a husband, a father, a friend, a neighbor, and a citizen. The concept of “mine” has gone through some profound changes, just as our present knowledge of God will become something greater and different in the life to come.
Second, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” Ancient mirrors were usually fuzzy compared to our own. Even when their clarity rivaled those we use, the image was still indirect and incomplete. Depth perception can be difficult to determine in a mirror. What’s the little phrase printed on the side-view mirror of your car, “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”? Peripheral vision is limited in a mirror. The picture it reflects is only so big. That’s why, after you check your car’s side view mirror, you still have to look in the blind spot or risk an accident. So our face to face view of God will clear up the fuzzy, hard to judge, and limited view we presently possess.
Third, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I may think I know myself, but I don’t know me anything like my Lord does. I know almost nothing of my own life between 11 o’clock last night and 6:30 this morning. I don’t know what disease might be lurking deep within my body. I know I have hair, but I have no idea how many. I know my tastes in food or music, but I don’t know why mine are not exactly like everyone else’s. But my Lord knows all these things.
Can we even begin to fathom what it will be like to know the Lord so completely and so intimately as he now knows each of us? Doesn’t that point to a difference between what we know now, and what we will know then, that is so vast as to demand that our present knowledge will pass away, and give way to something unimaginably greater and better? And doesn’t that help us to regard our current spiritual gifts with a proper sense of humility?
Perhaps your spiritual resume isn’t filled with fantastic abilities and impressive knowledge. But in his grace, in his forgiveness, in his Son, God has loved you. He has poured that love into your hearts. And that love will go with you, both his and yours, into eternity, long ages after what we think we know has passed away.