Whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Today’s theme of glory is such a deceptively familiar concept – so many of our prayers and hymns are about the glory of God that the word ‘Glory’ can very easily become just part of the church wallpaper, like the stained glass in the windows. We’re so used to saying it liturgically that it hardly occurs to us to analyse it theologically. But the idea itself has multiple layers of meaning.
The Hebrew word for glory comes from a verb - kabed - which means ‘to be heavy’. And there are a string of contexts where the word is used with various overtones of heaviness, where it is used with connotations of wealth and substance and permanence and severity… And then, connected with the images of wealth and gold and so on, there is the dimension of visible splendour and magnificence: the glory of Solomon; the glory of God that descends on the tabernacle; or the glory that shines from Moses’ face. As well as heaviness there is that second element of radiance and brightness. And thirdly, there is the more metaphorical use of the word, to mean something like honour or reputation.
But glory is a dangerous concept. Martin Luther said the basic problem with Medieval Catholicism was that it was not a theology of the cross but a theology of glory:
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general good to bad. These are the people whom the apostle calls ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’, for they hate the cross and suffering, and love works and the glory of works. ‘Heidelberg Disputation’, 1518
Summarised from an address given by David Starling
However beautiful the cathedrals we build or the music that we write, we cannot make God more glorious than He already is and always has been. When we are told in the bible to magnify the Lord, we are meant to acknowledge, declare and value the glory that is already there…
You can magnify with a microscope or with a telescope. A microscope magnifies by making tiny things look bigger than they are. A telescope magnifies by making gigantic things (like stars), which look tiny, appear more as they really are. God created the universe to magnify His glory the way a telescope magnifies stars. Tom Ascol
For most of us, we feel the reality of the glory of God when the glory of his world breaks through into our lives:
to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying…
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush: to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
In September 1941, in the darkest days of the war, Pilot Officer John Magee made a test flight of the new model of the Spitfire. Once back on the ground he wrote a letter to his parents, saying he had started the poem at 30,000 feet and finished it soon after he landed. He was killed just three months later.
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr., ‘High Flight‘
These are moments of exhilaration. But there are also quieter, more reflective times. Many of us learnt the next poem at school, but its sheer wonderment at God’s creation stays with us down the years:
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what ar
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee? William Blake
But we also need to look at ourselves in wonder and awe: we need to remind ourselves that the Divine is within us in all his glory. In his ‘Confessions’, St Augustine complained:
at the huge waves of the sea,
at the long courses of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars:
but themselves they pass by without wondering
Finally, remembering Arthur Campbell Aigner‘s well-known hymn:
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea,
Let us pray:
O God, great and wonderful, who hast created the heavens, dwelling in the light and beauty thereof, who hast made the earth, revealing thyself in every flower that opens; let not mine eyes be blind to thee, neither let mine heart be dead, but teach me to praise thee, even as the lark which offereth her song at daybreak. Amen
St Isidore of Seville
O holy God, we behold thy glory in the face of Jesus Christ: grant that we may reflect his life in word and deed, that all the world may know his power to change and save, though Christ our Lord, Amen
Grateful thanks to the Revd. David Starling for permission to quote him as shown.