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The Glory of God: Thought for 20th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24)

Whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God1 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:

I have seen the sun break through
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.

R S Thomas ‘The Bright Field’

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.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
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:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
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:


Men go abroad to wonder at the height of the mountains,
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:

Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be,
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.

4 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

It’s a bit of a surprise to me that we are not worshipping the Glory of God, rather we are celebrating his Glory? We celebrate through our love for Jesus Christ, who reflects the Glory of God for us?

As I am a fairly simple soul, I suspect that somewhere I might be missing something. I appreciate that we can’t increase the Glory of God, which was, is and will always be, but surely our worship and devotion which stems from the 1st Great Commandment forms an integral part of the pattern of that Glory, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle?

Are we not, through our worship, inserting tiny slivers into that Great Puzzle or Cloud of Glory, making the whole Glory one.

We are urged to worship and give thanks and praise for God and his Glory in scripture, in fact, it’s perhaps the one single reason for our being, as science claims to has proved every other cause.

Lay Anglicana said...

And I’m afraid I’m not sure I understand you, Ernie. To me there is a difference between discussing between ourselves what we think about God’s glory (which this blog post attempts to do) and how we respond to that glory in worship and praise. (I have written separately about why we need to praise God, not for his sake but our own). This post is not really meant to be a developed argument, simply some thoughts on the subject which I found interesting and hoped the readership might also.

Are you saying that God would be less glorious if we did not worship him? I’m not sure whether that is theologically right or not (that’s the problem with being a layman). But my instinctive reaction is that this is a slippery slope. It would be as if we were constantly measuring God on Klout to see how successful he was being on social media, with the understanding that his graph might go up and down depending on how many people were worshipping him at any one time. For me, God’s glory is independent of our worship of him. God does not need us to worship him, he delights in our worship because we need to worship him for our own spiritual well-being.

21 October 2012 20:10
21 October 2012 19:52
Charley Farns-Barns said...

M’Andrew leans against the bulkhead and muses on his beloved engines. Ninety days at sea, thirty thousand miles down round the Cape and east to Wellington and then home again on the Rio run. Now he’s near the end off Ushant with fifteen hundred people aboard: such ships as his engines drive hold the Empire together. In the din of the engine-room he wonders if his engines have souls for they are
“ . .singin’ like the Mornin’ Stars for joy that they are made”.
The old Calvinist sees in the regular motion of the crank-throws, the feed pumps, the sheaves and tail rods the glory of God.
“Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed”
And he hears “. . . them lift their lesson – theirs and mine;
Law, Orrder, Duty an’ Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!”

Kipling’s one of the very few poets who understands the power of machinery over men and the way it can make them see more deeply. He’s an ancient and important corrective to so much arty-fartiness that surrounds our theology, that there’s far more to the glory of God than “works of art” and pretty sunsets. And where we’re going we’ll see so much more. Soon that phrase
“ . . . I’ve trod
The high untrepassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God”
will mean so much more for our children’s children . Unlike any of us some will have literally “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and some will hear in the roar of machinery and hum of electronics those voices that told old M’Andrew so long ago of the greater glories.

Its just a thought,Charley F-B.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Charley. I like this and look forward to discussing it in greater detail face to face at our next meeting 🙂

21 October 2012 20:21
21 October 2012 19:55

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