May 2, 2016

In Other Words

Used the way He intends, a mirror starts us on a miraculous journey called repentance.

Lael Caesar

Once again, I’m backing the underdog. I’m speaking up for mirrors. I feel that too often mirrors have not been understood. I’m convinced that mirrors receive more than their fair share of things they don’t deserve, whether of flattery or denunciation. So find your mirror—hand mirror, full-length, whatever—and help me advocate in their behalf.

I find, for one, that quite contradictory things have been said about your mirror: it’s dangerous because it knows too much—a rather hostile view; it’s a peacekeeper, because it hold its peace—a more kindly perspective; it’s respectful because it won’t guffaw—perhaps an even more charitable attitude to mirrors.

Your mirror is telling you the truth. Right? This is why I stopped going to the gym. Mirrors don’t generally evaluate our feelings before offering their potentially awkward information. Those gym mirrors did not know whether I could handle the truth or not. And yours is just as frank. Yes? You agree. Whether it makes you anxious or leaves you just cool with it, your mirror says simply, “Deal with it.”

Yet there is a great tragedy that honest mirrors like yours continue to be associated with. Agnes de Mille tried to avoid this tragedy when she wrote “To a Young Dancer” in the Atlantic Monthly in December 1960. De Mille said, “The practice mirror is to be used for the correction of faults, not for a love affair, and the figure you watch should not become your dearest friend.” De Mille was addressing the tragedy of the misguided beholder.

That same tragedy is no doubt behind the Lord’s stern threat to take mirrors away (see Isa. 3:17-26)—although He likes mirrors. He’s given us one.

Amazingly enough, this mirror can take us for a walk. A mirror for a walk? Yes. Used the way He intends it starts us on a miraculous journey called repentance: we look into this mirror, His law (James 1:23-25), and find that it defines our status as distinctly unfavorable. Left to process that definition on our own we may fall into despair or shrug in apathetic fatalism. But God’s kindly Spirit is near, making us sensitive to our spiritual need and moving us on toward the glorious possibilities for filling that need (see John 16:7-14; Acts 5:31; Phil. 2:13; Titus 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:4).

In effect, He leads us to Jesus. There, at the foot of the cross, love melts our hearts. That’s when you sing with me, “I surrender all, I surrender all; all to Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” That state of blissful surrender is at the same time a bliss of wholeness born of God’s absolute forgiveness of everything that in any way constitutes a falling short of His ultimate ideals. But no one ever gets there without His mirror, His holy, just, good law. Whatever the critics may say, this mirror is neither dangerous nor dispensable. It isn’t even just good. It’s crucial.

Lael Caesar, associate editor of Adventist Review, loves God’s mirror. Gym mirrors: well, that’s another thing!