Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, is one of the earliest writers to record the ancient myth of Narcissus. According to Ovid, after Narcissus’ encounter with Echo, he fled to a river where he knelt down to drink. However, as he was about to drink, he caught sight of his own reflection in the water and fell in love. Whenever he tried to drink from the river, the reflection was disturbed. So, Narcissus refused to drink and he gazed longingly at his own reflection until he died. The myth of Narcissus has been used by modern writers and artists as varied as Keats, Dostoevsky, Freud and even Bob Dylan to highlight the destructive nature of narcissism. Today, mirrors are among the most common objects in the world. Mirrors are used in telescopes to bring distant images closer. Sometimes mirrors are distorted and twisted and used in carnivals to make us laugh at our own caricatures. Mirrors are used every day by people all over the world to help with personal grooming.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a mirror is defined as a smooth surface with spectral qualities. In other words, a good mirror is one that is able to reflect an image with clarity and precision. From a theological perspective, the earliest and most important mirror is found in the original creation account. We are told that God created man and woman in his image. That is, we were designed to be a reflection or mirror of God in the created order. After the Fall, the mirror of God’s image in us became distorted and fuzzy. It is in the incarnation that God enters into our history in Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that we see God the Father perfectly imaged. Jesus represents the “perfect representation” of God in human flesh.
Just as God in Jesus Christ entered history in order to show us what God was like, so the church is to embody and reflect the very presence of God in the world. Missions is a reflection of the incarnation. The role of the church is not just to bring a particular message, but to embody the message as we image the incarnation and foreshadow the coming New Creation. Undoubtedly, numerous examples can be cited where we have distorted God’s intention for the church in the world. Like the distorted mirrors at carnivals, we have sometimes reflected only a crude caricature of Jesus Christ in the world. However, God in his providence has chosen and sent the church into the world to bear witness to his glory and the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ.