‘Now we see through a glass darkly’, as St Paul famously said.
I would like to look at it in another way for a moment, which I think amplifies rather than contradicts St Paul’s point. I recently had one of those ‘Eureka’ moments, and rather than alarm the inhabitants of my Hampshire village by leaping from my bath and running naked through its streets, I thought it best to broadcast my idea through the more conventional, if less exciting, means of the Digi Disciple blog.
Suppose instead we think of the Word of God as pure white light. John Donne talked of a heaven where there would be no dazzling, nor darkness, but one equal light. But in this world we are unable to see the light of the Logos in all its clarity and perfection but are obliged instead to relate to what we can see through a glass, or as I am suggesting a prism. As we all learnt in physics, this means that what we are seeing is refracted light. That is to say the light is ‘distorted,’ broken down into its component colours. It is further ‘distorted’ by our eyes if we have anything less than 20/20 vision.
To extend the metaphor, I suggest that what happens is that although we are warned not to create God in our own image, it is virtually impossible not to do this. We can only see and understand God according to our own perspective – no amount of will can change that, although the Christian life is a pilgrimage towards deeper understanding. Almost all of us read the Word of God (Bible) in translation into our vernacular, which further ‘refracts’ the original. Even scholars who understand Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac do so from a 21st century perspective, and their understanding of the language of the Early Christians at this distance in time must only be partial.
With my prismatic rainbow analogy, some will see the Word of God as red, some as blue and some as yellow. And those are just the primary colours. As every school-child knows, there are seven colours in the rainbow (Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain as the mnemonic has it). But to Pantone, the accepted commercial colour classification system, there are more than 3,000 colours.
For me personally, this is not a problem. I believe that the Bible needs to be read prayerfully and interpreted through the Holy Spirit as a means of getting as close to the original Logos as possible. But others attach great importance to the words as they stand in their favourite translation and for them the interpretation of these words is all that is necessary. The redd-ites thump the table, hoping to persuade the green-ites to abandon their interpretation of the Word in favour of the ‘one true meaning’. And, of course, vice versa.
The musings above have, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with the current debate on the Church’s attitude to same-sex marriage. Nothing at all. Is that clear? 😉