The Enigma of Life
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The idea seems to be that just as when a man looks into a metal mirror, such as the ancients used, sees only a dim and ghost-like reflection of himself; so we, gazing ever upon the world of the known, see at best but a shadow of the truth. And just as a man puzzling over a riddle which is insoluble, sees a half, or some less or greater portion, of the meaning wrapped up in it, so it is with reference to all our knowledge. It does but amount to a guess more or less near or wide of the truth. Truth is wrapped in a riddle, life is a great and unexplained parable, but what urges us on is the feeling that by and by we shall stand face to face with the reality, and shall no more have to content ourselves with its mere representation.

I. THE ENIGMA OF LIFE. An enigma is a form of thought and speech which half reveals and half conceals the soul of truth. If you take any of those proverbs which form the current thought-coin of the world, you will find it to be only a hint of the truth to which it points. Hence almost every such saying may be capped by others which express the exact opposite. There are proverbs which tell us that to live for the day is the best wisdom, others which tell us to "consider the end;" some which emphasise the value of money, others which warn that loss is more profitable than gain. For we are many-sided creatures, and truth, to seem like truth at all, must be chameleon-like in its aspect. Our Saviour deliberately taught the multitude in riddles, which are but transcripts of that immense parable of nature and human life on which we are ever gazing.

1. Nature is full of oracles which never say quite clearly what is meant. God addresses us in an oblique, not in a direct manner. There are times of anxiety when we wish it would please God to speak to us no more in these riddles. But if the wish were granted it would be unbearable, and your prayer would soon be that this excess of knowledge might be again hidden from your soul.

2. What an enigma is human nature! Few of us know anything but the surface. The great masters in poetry go a little below, but not far. What is human nature? Good or evil? Or, neither good nor evil, but a mixture or conflict, a result determined by education and circumstance? None but the ignorant will undertake to answer such questions oft-hand. You or I know as much about it as Calvin or as Shakespeare, which is not much. The soul is the enigma of enigmas. It is the meeting-point of heaven and hell. It is the scene of contention of good and evil spirits. The angel and the demon, the saint and the sinner, are in each heart. We look from day to day into the mirror of conscience, and see an image fainter or clearer of self. We note changes in that self, yet find that self the same. Sometimes that image frightens us, and again, under the spell of music or of prayer, a celestial glory falls upon that image.


1. Evidently a lowly habit, the very opposite of all conceit and dogmatism about the great problems of existence. Things mean much more than they seem to any one of us. Humility, the sense that our opinions are very partial, begets slowly a truer judgment of the relative value of things. We learn to appraise the contents of the world, and gradually to give them their right place in the scale of spiritual value. And we may learn, above all, better to know our own place and value, somewhere between the highest and the lowest point.

2. And thus, through lowliness, we may reach patience and leisure of mind; for we must not be hasty or impatient if we would live with God. Our eagerness to come to conclusions and to set the world to rights may imply a forgetfulness that the world is in God's charge, not ours. Our anxiety to get to a terminus seems to ignore that we have all eternity before us. Every great subject requires to be re-examined, every great book to be re-studied and revised. The forms of our religion must undergo incessant change; its essence abides, for the spirit of Jesus is the essence of Christianity. This is rooted not in any particular sort of intellectual acquirement, but simply in love. Love alone abideth.

III. LOVE IS THE LAST SOLUTION OF THE ENIGMA OF LIFE. As a principle in our own minds, love, says St. Paul, is greater than either faith or hope. The moment the spring of love dries in the heart, that moment we cease to believe and to hope. If we are true to love in the little world we govern, it cannot well be doubtful that He is true to love in the vast world He governs. The cause of any serious infidelity that exists lies here; men doubt whether God is as loving as themselves. But whence came your own love? You did not create it, and will you deny the Giver in the very strength of His gift? We cannot explain the problem of existence, but we can feel that that is already explained in the mind of God. In proportion as we live in God's love, shall we find the faith, and the hope, and the courage to face the facts of life, so long as those qualities are needed.

(Prof. E. Johnson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

WEB: For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.

The Body, the Dark Medium of Spiritual Vision
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