How can we behold God, seeing beyond the temporary to what is eternal?
Paul addresses this question in 2 Corinthians 3–4 as he describes what it means to be a minister of the new covenant in the Spirit (3:6), contrasted with the ‘ministry of condemnation’ in the old covenant (3:8). Paul’s answer traces the unveiling of God’s identity from the first act of his speaking light into creation, through the pivotal moment of revelation in the face of Christ (4:6), to the future eternal glory of heaven (4:17). The idea of a veil is used throughout the passage, first to explain the impermanent glory of the dispensation under Moses (3:13), and then as a metaphor for the spiritual blindness that can only be removed in Christ (3:16).
This intricate lattice screen is an exquisite example of jali (pierced stonework) from Mughal India. It is part of the tomb of the Emperor Humayun, constructed in Delhi between 1565 and 1572. The tomb was commissioned by his son Akbar and was an important architectural precursor of the Taj Mahal. The jali is made of white marble, which was a material closely associated with the purity of divine light in Mughal architecture. Its complex geometry was considered sacred in Islamic art, revealing the underlying mathematical order of creation and thus leading one to the mind of God.
The jali lattice obscures the view outwards. At the same time, it allows the inward flow of sunlight in scattered geometric shapes as though revealing a heavenly light from God. It’s like a veil that defines a boundary between the material world of appearances and the eternal reality of God’s presence. The screen is something concretely visible, but at the same time it ‘dissolves’ itself, enabling us to discern something beyond it; to perceive the creator God ‘who said let light shine…’
Paul sees a similar dynamic in the way the earlier dispensation, represented by Moses, exists to open a way beyond itself, but also in the way Paul himself fulfils his calling by ‘unselving’ himself so that the greater light of Christ can shine through (4:15).
Asher, Catherine Ella Blanshard. 2008. Architecture of Mughal India, The New Cambridge History of India, 4 vols (Cambridge University Press)