The old addage, “Seeing is believing,” pretty much sums up our modern attitude to the world around us. Common sense and a modest commitment to reason both accept the notion that the world is, pretty much as we see it, and that what we see is the truth of things. Over the years I’ve heard any number of believers suggest that they would like to be able to go back in a time-machine and witness the events in the life of Christ. Some utter such a wish for sentimental reasons, others, more cautiously would like to go back so they could see for themselves, the idea being that once having seen for themselves, they would then know the truth of the matter.
The problem is, we have a clear Scriptural witness that this did not work the first time. The disciples, despite being in close proximity to miracle after miracle still seem to have their doubts. Rather staggeringly, we are told in the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).
Miracles do not apparently make believers out of skeptics. If time machines, common sense, general reason and “just taking a look for ourselves” are insufficient for belief, how do we get at the truth of things? This common sense approach to the gospels will never arrive at the truth of things for two simple reasons: there are no time machines and, as just noted, seeing is not necessarily believing.
The Scriptures have a very different claim about the truth. It is Christ Himself who claims that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Such a statement should change our very concept of truth itself. If Christ Himself is the Truth, then the truth of anything can only be known in its relationship to Christ. Here Truth has been transformed, even made relative, if we understand that it is relative to its relationship with Christ.
Thus if we were to ask, “What is the truth of myself?” we would not look to ourselves to find the answer, much less exercise our freedom and simply define our own truth. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The truth of my life and its direction and even of my existence is not in me, but in Christ. Thus the truth of things remains hidden.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
This applies not only to ourselves but to all that is. The truth of everything is not yet made clear. Like a mystery story, we read clue after clue, but not until the last page is turned do we realize that a man we thought was important was unimportant; the woman who appeared to be guilty was innocent; and the butler did it after all.
For Christians, truth is eschatological: it is coming to us from the very End of things. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, but the Alpha and the Beginning will not be clear until we know the Omega and the End.
Thus it is that the Church points its life towards the End. We believe that the End of all things has dwelt among us, and continues to live among us and make Himself accessible, most particularly in the mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Eucharist, etc.). At the feast of the Eucharist we believe that we in fact stand at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, that the End is somehow contained or made present within the actions we take at that time.
It is also a key to forgiveness. Sin is the past – it is what I have done – it is what has been done to me. But if the End of all things reaches back to me and makes me His own, then the truth of who I am is redefined. I am forgiven for my fall and made into a new creation. If others around me see nothing of this truth, or, at best, catch only a glimpse, it is still true. For as I remain faithful to Christ and draw ever closer to the End of all things, the truth of who I am (which is defined by my relationship to Him) will become ever more clear.
Icons have many aspects that make for their peculiarity (particularly those painted in a traditional manner). Faces have a particular shape; hands and bodies seem elongated; eyes are enlarged as well as the forehead; ears, nose and mouth are reduced. Is this a portrait of what we think the saint looked like? An icon is a painting that seeks to reveal the truth of the saint – to show us who they are in relationship to Christ. Thus each of these artistic conventions that are the common language of icons are defined by the End of things. They are painted in the truth of their being. No longer bound by earth, their bodies are painted in a way that the earthbound weight of things is replaced by the lightness of being. The senses are reduced for we are no longer sensualists in the End. Eyes and forehead are enlarged for we shall see and know as we do not now. And though saints among us may be hidden now – they will be revealed then. Thus, a Church filled with icons, is also filled with the truth of these human lives. Entering the Church, we are standing at the End of all things.
I enter the Church with my candle, ready to pray. I look up and by grace I realize: it’s later than you think.