God’s mirror

Whenever I am home on a Sunday morning I watch the TV program De Verwondering (The Wonderment) in which Annemiek Schrijver talks with men and women about spiritual topics. Her guests may or may not be christians. On February 25 Annemiek talked with Enis Odaci, a second-generation Turkish-Dutchman. Guests in the program are always asked to bring a text with them that they value in a particular way. Enis Odaco read a quotation from the Kasidah van Hji Abu el-Yezdi, a long poem written (under pseudonym) by the British Arabist and discoverer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who wanted to promote the Sufi-tradition in the Western world. This is the quotation

  •    The truth was a mirror in the hands of God
  •    It fell, and broke into pieces
  •    Everybody took a piece of it
  •    and they looked at it
  •    and thought they had the truth.

As I grew up I heard from my mother—and this was affirmed time and again in church—that Seventh-day Adventists have the Truth. That Truth was to be communicated to all people on earth, and the prospect looked pretty dim for those who decided not to listen. Even as an 8-10 year old I sensed that these were big words. Were we the only family in our village who were right? At times I quietly prayed: ‘Lord, let it be true, that our church is indeed the true church!’

Throughout my life this quest for Truth has been important for me. It acquired three layers. 1. Is Christianity true and are all other world religions false? 2. If so, is there a particular stream or faith community that has the correct interpretation of the christian faith? 3. If there is a faith community that has a correct interpretation of the Truth, does that mean that there is just one script that all believers in that community must adhere to?

In the quotation about the Mirror of Truth, the question of Truth is approached in a very different way. God possessed the Truth. This Truth was as a perfect mirror, but God dropped it, and the mirror fell on the earth into thousands of fragments. All people tried to get hold of a shard and cried triumphantly: ‘I have the mirror of Truth.’ Indeed, we seem justified in supposing that God’s Truth has come to mankind in a very fragmented way and that we all possess just a piece of that Truth.

First of all we are confronted with the question whether non-christian religions contain any Truth and may somehow serve as a road to salvation. This questions continues to fascinate me, and I am just now in the middle of reading the book Who can be saved? Reassessing salvation in Christ and world religions.[1] For me many questions remain, but I have concluded that non-christian religions also have picked up a shard of God’s Truth—be it perhaps a somewhat smaller shard compared to what christians have. When contemplating this matter I cannot help but hear in the background the text of that beautiful hymn by Frederick William Faber (1862): There is a wideness in God’s mercy as the wideness of the sea.

I must admit I no longer see a sharp line between my church, as God’s chosen remnant of the endtime, and other Christian churches. I am, and plan to remain, a committed Seventh-day Adventist christian and I believe that my church has a significant shard of God’s Truth, but I cannot deny that other churches also have their shard. Therefore I have no reason to triumphantly claim that only my church has the Truth.

Let me make it just a little more personal. I do have a small shard of the Truth. I do recognize that it is colored by my Adventst heritage. Others in my faith community also have their small shard, but  it may have a somewhat different color or shape. No human being has all of the Truth. That does, however, not mean that there is no Truth. God possesses the Truth and He has shown Himself in the One who said: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. In Him the Truth is reflected. We only see in our shard of the mirror a small glimpse of that Truth. But that is enough and with this we should be gratefully content

[1] By Terrance L. Tiessen. Published by Intervarsity Press (Downer’s Grove, IL, 2004).