8.4.08

Shadows and Reflections

Listen to the song based on this post.
I Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” NASB

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God see us, knowing him directly just as he knows us” The Message Eugene Peterson

“God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at God sees something different.” Rabbi Harold Kushner

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin

What do you see when you look in a mirror? Do you see yourself? Do you see a reflection? What happens when the mirror is warped or twisted, cracked or misshapen? Remember the fun house mirrors at the carnival where you could see your reflection change depending on the type of glass in the mirror? There you were, your normal self, but in that piece of glass you were ten feet tall, with a huge head, and clown-sized feet; or maybe short and bloated with the tiniest head. And you would laugh, it was funny to you. The distortion of the reflection was so different, so ludicrous, that it was actually humorous. But of course, you knew that the distortion wasn’t real. You really were not some giant with large feet, it was just a reflection.

When I was a child I can remember being fascinated with shadows, my shadow and the shadows of other things that I saw. Maybe it was a Peter Pan-like wish that my shadow was somehow alive. But I remember noticing the way that my shadow moved. In the morning, as I would walk with the sun at my back, my shadow was there in front of me. It was long and its legs were like a spider’s. They were so thin and would shrink and grow with every step I took. In the afternoon my shadow would cling close to me, an amorphous blob on the ground. By the evening as the sun set my shadow stood tall again. I remember riding my bike and watching my shadow dance over the surface of the road and jump onto everything that I passed. There it was on the fence beside me, there it was on the hedges, and I would marvel at its ability to transform. Of course I couldn’t do that. I am not a shadow, shadows are not real.

The thing about shadows and reflections is their often similar and familiar nature. They often look like they should be real but they are not. They are only representations of reality. They are snapshots of something real distorted by two dimensions, the bending of light waves, the angle of the sun… there are a litany of things that cause distortion. With this in mind, if we focus on Rabbi Kushner’s quote it becomes obvious that looking at God as a mirror means we see something incomplete, lacking dimension, just a reflection of reality. The passage in I Corinthians describes it as looking through a dark piece of glass, like trying to see an image through a stained glass window. If you’ve ever tried to look through stained glass you’ll notice that all the details of an object are obscured in the tint and bend. What you see is a silhouette, a shadow, of what is behind the glass. This is how we see God now, from our point of view; incomplete, lacking dimension. We see a reflection, a shadow, there is always a sense that our view is incomplete and probably distorted.

When you think of the Almighty what image comes to your mind? How do you view God? How do others view this creator of the universe? Are these views incomplete? Distorted? Wrong?

Baylor University’s Institute for the Studies of Religion, in Waco, Texas, along with Gallup instituted a comprehensive survey in 2005. They asked over 1,700 people from all over this country 77 questions about faith, their beliefs and their practices. The survey hinged directly on the individual’s view of God’s personality and God’s involvement in today’s world. Using words like “absolute,” “wrathful,” “forgiving,” “friendly,” and “distant” they were able to paint broad pictures of how people in America view God. After their results were released in 2006 they stated that there are four major views of God in America. For our purposes here, we will say that there are five so as to represent those who don’t believe in a God at all. The five views breakdown like this…

The Authoritarian God is in direct contact with this world, highly involved in everyday life. He demands obedience or there will be judgment. He is angry at the state of the world.

The Benevolent God is also in direct contact with humanity. But he is not angry. He is a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

The Critical God sits at a distance with his judgmental eye on the wicked. He will not intervene in this world, not to condemn or comfort.

The Distant God is a cosmic force that set this universe in motion and now has left it to continue on its own. He is not involved. In fact, he is probably not a personality at all.

The Atheistic view states that God is not rational, relevant, or real at all. Though this view lacks any insight into this deity’s personality or involvement it still is a valid view; a God who isn’t there.

This pie chart shows the breakdown of these five views across the population of the survey.

The findings of the study, as indicated by the pie chart, reveal that there is no majority view of God. Yes, some views are larger or smaller than others, but there is not one view that most Americans hold in the majority. Most find this fact surprising since they assume that their view of God is probably the majority’s opinion.

The other interesting thing that this study discovered is that a great deal can be learned about a person when you discover how they view Deity. How we view God says a great deal about how we view the world. We will discuss this further, but I feel the interesting question to ask is, “Why?” Why does one’s view of God influence their view of everything else? The answer to this question lays in the idea spoken of earlier, shadows and reflections.

We cannot see ourselves for what we are without help. We cannot see our own faces unless the image is reflected back to us. We can not tell the dimensions of our bodies without a source of reflection or light to give a representation. Therefore our view of ourselves is skewed by the distortion of reflections and shadows. Let me explain further. Imagine that God is a light source and you are an object in front of it. You cast a shadow while you stand in the light. But the shadow is affected by the placement of that light, its size, its distance, its angle. Therefore your view of your silhouette produced is altered by where the light source has been placed. Here is another example, let’s say that Rabbi Kushner’s statement is true and God is like a mirror. In this mirror we see a reflection of who we really are. But this mirror, as we see it, can only show us a two dimensional image. Maybe the mirror is stained, warped, foggy, broken, too small, too far away, and what we see is either distorted or at the very least incomplete. In other words we are inhibited by our view of and in the mirror.

The other question that this survey raises is where do these views of God come from? Why do we see God the way that we do?

We can only see what our eyes show us, we can only hear what ears can pick up, we can only experience life through the senses that we have been given. We put together our view of reality based on what we see, hear, touch, feel, taste, and perceive. We take the pieces that we have experienced and then construct a view of reality based on what we know. This is exactly true when it comes to God. We take the things we have experienced, the things we have been told, the things we have seen in nature and in the lives of others, and we construct a view of God consistent to our experiences. God has become the ultimate jigsaw puzzle for our human minds.

There is a danger in this, of course. What if all the information my senses told me was not true? What if my eyes thought there was water in the desert, but what I actually saw was an illusion? What if what I thought I heard is not even close to what was actually said? Then I construct a false reality around those things that I think I know. I make something that is not really there. Again, what if the evidence from my senses is incomplete? What if I only see a part of what is there? What if I only experience a piece of what is real? Then I attempt to construct the whole based on the parts that I have. As a result what I have constructed may not be accurate at all. I could have made a sincere effort to make something consistent with all the information that I have collected, but I could be sincerely wrong.

This is exactly where our views of God come from. We take all the things that we have seen of God (nature, images), all that we have heard or read, all that we have felt with our emotions, all that we have experienced, and all that we have learned and we make a picture of who God is. Is this picture accurate? What if we haven’t always seen or heard or read the truth concerning God and who He is? What if we were wrong or our information is wrong? Then our view of God is false. What if our information is incomplete? Then so is our view of God.

The point is that these views of God come from us and our human minds trying to grasp the holy and the divine. As a result these views are at best incomplete and at worst completely false. The only thing that is certain about these views is that we made them. We created them. We see God as we want to see Him, as we have understood him. Therefore we try to look at ourselves through the mirror and reflection of ourselves and what we see amounts to visual feedback. It’s just the same thing bouncing back and forth like two mirrors facing each other. All we see is ourselves.

This is where the last quote of Anais Nin becomes so true and important. “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” In other words if I have created the light source and placed it where I think it should be than I have influenced my views so that of course they cannot possibly be accurate. If I have created a mirror that makes sense to me, out of my own two hands, with my own ideas, then of course I have altered the image that the mirror reflects. In other words, we have begun to make God in our image, in the way that we think that He should be and as a result our view of everything is affected, distorted, and not necessarily what is really there.

So which view of God is correct? How do we need to see Him in order to have a correct view of Him? Is it even possible to have a clear picture of who God is? If we can’t see God for who He is, than how can we hope to see ourselves and the world as it really is? Of course, we cannot hope to give a pad answer to these deep questions. But we can start a journey of discovery that might lead us to understand and see a bit more of God, His place and His character. As we continue on this journey we’ll discover that there is more to this God than we ever imagined and that it is not just a possibility that we won’t understand it all, it is a cold, hard fact. We will never have a complete view of God, but that does not mean that we don’t strive to see as much as our puny human minds can grasp.

May you strive to deepen your understanding of who God is and what He is like so that you may see yourself and the world around you in his light. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling as we dive in to learn more.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Amy said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging. Its great fun.

I enjoyed your post, it reminds me of the parables piece I wrote my Sr year . Where a police detective is looking for God (a missing person) and asks three Christians what God is like. He gets three very different descriptions.

The answer in my mind as always been in many ways all of above. Not so much that every religion is true or that what we want to see is what is true. But that God is as you said so much bigger than our puny minds can understand and we only see hints of him. He is loving and critical, angry yet merciful, all knowing yet willing to listen to all we don't understand.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Forrest said...

Awesome post, man. A couple of things come to my mind. The first is a quote by C.S. Lewis that pertains more to the first part:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.

Sort of a different thought that what you're presenting here, but it reminded me of that nonetheless.

I think the issues you raise are critical to our faith as Christians. These are the kind of issues we're afraid to address because we're unsure that they have absolute answers. They are, however, reality.

I did a project in design school based on the phrase "seeing is believing" and it's palindrome "believing is seeing." What I found is that, as you point out, both are equally true. We believe in something because we see it, but we also tend to see things that support what we believe.

If we're honest with ourselves about what you're saying here, we must at least embrace these questions, even if we don't have the concrete answers.

12:50 PM  

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