This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is here.
Glory. It’s so woven into the fabric of who we humans are that that it can be difficult to describe, though we know what it is. We humans are wired for glory, hungry for glory, seeking glory, crowned with glory, moved by glory, eager to give glory.
So what is glory, and why am I writing about it in a blog focused on the multiethnic church? We’ll come back around to that second question.
In the Bible we see an intrinsic glory of God and an ascribed glory of God. The Old Testament Hebrew word translated “glory” is kabod, and originally meant “heaviness,” “importance,” or “significance.” Steven Lawson says, “It came to represent the stunning magnificence of certain objects, such as the blazing sun or the regal majesty displayed by a king. Hence, glory came to be used to describe the magnificent splendor and awesome radiance of God Himself revealed to man.”1
Doxa is the Greek word for “glory” in the New Testament. According to Lawson, it “means ‘an opinion’ or ‘an estimate’ of something. When used of someone’s reputation, it means ‘importance,’ ‘greatness,’ ‘renown,’ or ‘significance.’ God’s intrinsic glory is the revelation of the greatness of His divine attributes to His creatures.”2
What is ascribed glory? It is the praise or honor that is rightfully due God because of who he is—because of his intrinsic greatness and glory. The display of God’s intrinsic glory moves us to ascribe glory to him. Psalm 29:2 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”
So glory has to do with weightiness, splendor, reputation, and honor.
There’s also a human side to glory. We humans are created with glory in our DNA. We have a deep desire to receive glory, to display glory, and to ascribe glory.
We are glory-wired, glory-crowned, glory-hungry, glory-seeking beings. And that’s not a bad thing, though like any other essential quality it can be perverted. We were created to participate in and bask in the glory of God. The supreme tragedy of our story is not merely that we disobeyed a command and deserve punishment, but that we broke faith and forfeited glory—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Human beings, writes Matthew Bates, “are crowned with 'glory and honor’ and given dominion over creation, so they can make God’s glory available by their rule over it (Psalm 8:5). When anyone or anything is in the presence of a human, God’s glory—his tangible weightiness and splendor—is radiating outward through that human. Or, at least, it should be.”3 But when we sinned, we lost our ability to make glory present, and all of creation—not just humanity—suffered, becoming glory-deficient.
So we spend our lives looking for glory—something that lifts us above the mundane aspect of our existence, that stirs our emotions. We look for it in relationships, in creating or enjoying art, in sports as participants or spectators, in travel, in thrill-seeking, in religion, and in many other ways. Sometimes we give up and settle for mood-altering drugs or loveless sex. No matter how jaded, disappointed, wounded, embittered, or disillusioned we become, deep down we still long to be amazed, thrilled, excited, impressed, wowed, and totally blown away.
The Weight of Glory
C. S. Lewis spoke perhaps more eloquently than anyone else about this primal desire in his famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.4
Yes, God wants us to desire great things. Romans 2:6-8 says, “He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness.”
Jesus came to earth to initiate a glory-restoration project. The long-range goal was a renewed creation, served and safeguarded by human image-bearers who would manifest God’s glory throughout the world. The plan involved redeeming these broken image bearers (those who would pledge allegiance to the King) and place them in family-communities that would be glory beacons in a dark world of glory substitutes.
Listen to what Jesus prays in John 17: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (verses 22-24).
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” As we continually gaze at Jesus as he is portrayed in Scripture, we gradually become more like him and experience and manifest more of his glory.
Finally, in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 we read, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body.” When I read this I see a picture of a cracked pot with a priceless, luminescent treasure shining out through the cracks.
What is the treasure? Commentators’ opinions vary. Some say it’s the gospel, and I can’t disagree. But from John 17 I think we might also say it is the glory that Jesus received from the Father and that he in turn passed on to his church. And why did Jesus bestow this glory on his church? “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
This is the glory connection. We live in a world that is starved for glory. Individually and systemically, it has fallen short of the glory of God. It’s looking for glory in all the wrong places—in racial identity, power, politics, entertainment, wealth, pleasure, and on and on. These misguided efforts are tearing us apart, sometimes quickly and violently, other times slowly and numbingly. We, the church, bear our glory-treasure in jars of clay, but without unity there’s no glory for the world to see.
This leaves me with some questions to ponder. Am I regularly “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord?” If I’m not cultivating my desire for his magnificent splendor, I’m cultivating my desire for lesser glories, and I’m not being changed from one degree of glory to another. How are we as congregations stewarding this treasure of glory and unity that we have been given? Are we in defensive/maintenance mode, or are we seizing opportunities to shine brighter as things get darker?
In part two of this two-part post I want to develop some practical implications for discipleship and unity in the Romans 2:7 phrase “seeking glory and honor and immortality.”
3 Matthew Bates, The Gospel Precisely, chapter 2.
4 C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis)