The word of God has both those abilities, too. We can see things “through” it – the stories, lessons, and events it records – and we can also catch occasional glimpses of ourselves in the way it describes our own human natures and tendencies.
This dual nature of the Bible – as both spiritual window and mirror – is something the Scriptures themselves describe. The well-known words of the apostle James speak directly about the Bible’s ability to act reflectively as a spiritual mirror, of course: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23-24).
Many other scriptures talk about our ability to see things through the word of God, as well. Paul’s words regarding his own letter to the Ephesians are an example of this: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). Elsewhere Paul speaks even more specifically about the things we are able to see through the Spirit-inspired word of God: “… these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
So it is clear that the two great purposes of the word of God are to teach us about God and what he has done for humanity, and to teach us what we need to know about ourselves. And that, of course, is why we study the Bible. But that is also where we sometimes fall down in not studying as effectively as we could. Often, even devoted Christians fall into the habit of either looking at or through the word, but not both.
For example, if we are not careful it’s easy to just read through the Bible by reading its stories and focusing on them, but not seeing the reflections of ourselves that we frequently need to see. To do that we have to keep “two hats” on at once, so to speak – to be able to read about events, stories and descriptions while constantly watching for aspects that “reflect” on us – things that are condemned or encouraged that we need to change or to develop.
On the other hand, it is just as possible to focus too much on ourselves in our Bible reading, to mainly think about scriptures that encourage, guide, or even correct us, but at the same time to not focus on the real subject of God’s word – God himself. God certainly desires to speak to us through his word, but his message is not primarily about us, it’s about him and his plan for his whole creation.
So if we are mainly looking at our own reflection in our study of the Bible, we are not seeing a major part of its message; though on the other hand, if we are only looking “through the glass” we are missing something very important, too. Effective Bible study consists of a careful balance of these two ways of looking. If at the end of a session of Bible reading we have only been personally encouraged or corrected but have not learned or been reminded about some aspect of the nature of God, we may have missed seeing something or may need to read a little further. If we feel we came to better understand some aspect of God’s nature and his dealing with humanity but missed any application in our own lives, we may have missed something, too.
As the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture gives us both doctrine – things to know – and instruction – things to do. In order to get both those intended results we need to continually remind ourselves to look both at the glass and through it.