I will never forget that evening. I can't think of a moment when I was more blown away by a musical composition.
I don't recall the composer or the conductor, but I was at a performance played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My ticket put me in the first row and it was worth it. The music was powerful, foreboding, amazing, haunting, compelling, and glorious, all at the same time.
There were moments when I wished this night would never end, and moments when I wanted to get up and run out of the concert hall. There were moments when the music caused my chest to rattle and moments when it lured me in with a whisper. There were moments when musical joy collided with musical fear in a beautiful disharmony of sound.
When the performance was over, I felt both sad and exhausted. I wanted more, and yet at the same time I felt like I had had enough. I didn't know why this particular performance had affected me so deeply until I looked at the program and saw the name of the composition. It read: God, the most formidable word ever spoken.
TRYING TO CAPTURE GLORY
What I experienced that night was the attempt of a very gifted composer to capture God – in all his amazing and variegated glory – in a single piece of music. In one sense, it was a triumphant effort, and in another sense, a dismal and embarrassing failure.
For any human being to think that they could capture the glory of God in a single artistic statement is delusional at best and vain at worst. To squeeze what is infinite into what is finite is vastly more impossible than trying to cram the entire body of fully-developed elephant into a thimble. No matter how gifted you are or how hard you try, it just won't happen! The composer, the conductor, and the orchestra had done marvelously well by human standards, but with their grandest effort, they only captured less than a drop of the never-ending ocean that is the glory of God.
Glory is not a thing, like a shoe, a steak, a candle, or a cottage. Those are particular physical items that could be so carefully described with words that you would immediately have an accurate picture in your mind of what is being talked about. One could draw a picture of a shoe or take a photograph of a cottage and you could see it and know what it was. But glory isn't like that.
No single drawing, painting, photograph, or verbal description could ever capture glory. Glory isn't so much a thing as it is a description of a thing. Glory isn't a part of God; it's all that God is. Every aspect of who God is and every part of what God does is glorious. But even that's not enough of a description. Not only is he glorious in every way, but his very glory is glorious!
WHAT IS GLORY?
With many other doctrines in Scripture, we typically run to a couple of default passages that describe the issue at hand, and we feel as if we're able to walk away with some general understanding of that topic. But that strategy doesn't work with the doctrine of God's glory, because God's glory lives above and beyond any type of description or definition.
You can say for sure that God is glorious – your Bible declares that he is – but you cannot accurately and fully describe in words the glory that Scripture declares. Perhaps the only workable path into some understanding of the grandeur of the glory of God is to read the entire Bible from cover to cover over and over again, looking for divine glory. Why? Because the glory of God isn't defined in his Word; no, his glory is so grand that it splashes across every page of his book.
That being said, there are places where Scripture attempts to define the hugeness of the glory of God with the smallness of human language so we can get a glimpse of what it's like. For example: the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, stretches human language to its furthest point of elasticity in order to give us a little glimpse of God's glory. He writes, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?" (Isaiah 40:12).
I've actually done this, and it would be a good word picture for you to attempt. Go to your sink, turn it on, and see how much water you can cup in the palm of your hand before it starts spilling out. Then, consider that your God can hold all of the liquid in the universe and not spill a single drop!
Isaiah continues: "[He] has weighed the mountains in a scale … Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket [to him] … [He] stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in" (Isaiah 40: 12, 15, 22).
The prophet is employing incalculably huge word pictures to help us have a miniscule glimpse of understanding into how glorious God is. Yet even these very picturesque and helpful descriptions fall miserably short of capturing the awesome glory of God.
So, when the Bible speaks of God's glory, what is it talking about? The doctrine of God's glory encompasses the greatness, beauty, and perfection of all that he is.
In everything that he is and in everything that he does, God is greater than human description. Every attribute and action of God is stunningly beautiful in every way. Each characteristic of God and every accomplishment from his hand is totally perfect. This is what we mean when we talk about God's glory.
The stunning reality of this universe is that there exists One who is the greatest, the most beautiful and the most perfect in every way. God is gloriously great, gloriously beautiful and gloriously perfect. There is none like him; he has no rivals, and no valid comparisons can be made to him. He is the great Other, in a category of his own beyond our ability to estimate, understand or describe.
Every part of God is glorious in every way possible; there's nothing more to be said. And because God is glorious in every possible way, he alone stands in this vast universe as the only One who is worthy of the worship, surrender and love of every human heart.
WHY DOES GLORY MATTER?
After reading that, you may have some questions. "OK, Paul, I recognize that God is glorious and that his glory is important … but how?" I want to dedicate the second half of this essay to practical application.
Here are 6 implications that the doctrine of glory has in and on our everyday lives:
1. You and I are hardwired by God for glory.
People are glory-oriented creatures. Animals are not. People are attracted to glorious things, whether it's an exciting drama or sports game, an enthralling piece of music or the best meal ever. Animals live by instinct and exist to survive. We live with a glory hardwiring and chase bigger and better things.
God built this glory orientation into us; it's not sinful or against God's will to be attracted to glorious things. Because of this glory orientation, our lives will always be shaped by the pursuit of some kind of glory. You and I will always be chasing something to satisfy the glory hunger that God designed for us to live with.
How were your decisions yesterday influenced by your glory hardwiring?
2. God created this glorious world to point to his glory.
God intentionally placed us in a world jam-packed with glory. From trees to flowers to mountains; from mashed potatoes to steak to lemonade; from thunderstorms to sunsets to snowfalls – all of these things were designed by God to tingle our glory sensors. But, it's important to understand that every created glory is meant by God to function as a spiritual GPS that points us to the only glory that will ever satisfy our hearts, the glory of God.
Imagine taking a family vacation to Disney World, and 30 miles out, you spot a sign on the side of the road with the logo and name of the resort. It would be silly to stop at the sign and have your family vacation on the side of the road! So it is with the glory of God in creation – it's only a sign, directing you to the source. Don't stop at the sign.
What can you do to be more aware of the glorious world that God created for you to live in?
3. Only God's glory can satisfy the glory hunger in our hearts.
If there exists within each of us a hunger for glory, then one could argue that everything we think, desire, say and do is done out of a quest for glory. We all want what is glorious in our lives – whether that's the fleeting glorious pleasure of a meal, the glory of recognition by peers or supervisors, or participating in the glorious work of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Where we chase after glory can vary, but one thing is for certain: this hunger for glory will never ever be satisfied by created things. Even if you could experience the most glorious situations, locations, relationships, experiences, achievements or possessions in this life, your heart still would not be satisfied. Creation has no capacity whatsoever to bring contentment to your heart. Only God can satiate our hunger, and in satiating our hunger, give peace and rest to our hearts.
Where in creation are you looking to satisfy the glory hunger that only God can satisfy?
4. Sin turns you and I into glory thieves.
The original design was for human beings to live in a glorious world and exist in perfect relational harmony with a glorious God. But sin corrupted the original design, and now you and I have the desire to live for ourselves (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Instead of living for the glory of God, we try to steal that glory for ourselves.
We demand to be in the center of our world. We take credit for what only God could produce. We want to be sovereign. We want others to worship us. We establish our own kingdom and punish those who break our laws. We tell ourselves that we're entitled to what we don't deserve, and we complain when we don't get whatever it is that we want. It's a glory disaster.
How have you attempted to steal glory from God this week?
5. We inaccurately point the finger of blame and prolong our glory dysfunction.
It's tempting to blame the glory war that rages within us on outside elements and culprits: if only our culture wasn't so perverse; if only the media didn't promote sinful priorities; if only our government was more committed to morality. Sure, outside factors are strong and influential, but the glory war that rages within our hearts is first what attracts us to those outside elements.
Within the heart of every sinner is a deep and abiding glory dysfunction. Living for the glory of self is more natural to us than acknowledging and living for the glory of God. In our self-deception, we tell ourselves that we really can satisfy our hunger by drinking from dry wells. If we want to solve our glory dysfunction, we have to get to the heart of the dysfunction – which is, in fact, our heart.
Who have you blamed for your dysfunction, and how has that delayed the cure?
6. God's grace alone has the power to cure our glory dysfunction.
The reality is that we can't actually solve our own glory dysfunction. Many have tried; none have succeeded on their own. Our only hope is for the God of glory to invade our lives and rescue us. But not rescue us from culture or media or government – no, he needs to rescue us from us.
This is why Jesus came to earth, lived righteously on our behalf, died for our dysfunction, then rose again conquering sin and death. In amazing grace, Jesus willingly came on a glory rescue mission, and because he did, there's hope for us. When we admit to our glory thievery and when we cry out for help for our dysfunction, we can finally be free from the never-satisfying quest for worldly glory and live forever in the light of the satisfying glory of God.
When was the last time you admitted to your glory dysfunction with specificity and asked for God's rescuing grace?
You see, there's only One who exists in the universe who is ultimate in glory, ultimate in greatness, ultimate in beauty and ultimate in perfection, and, he is all of these things in everything he is and in everything he does. God has no glory inconsistencies, and he has no glory rivals. All that is comes from him, all that is continues to exist through him, and all that is was made for him (see Romans 11:36).
To live in light of the doctrine of God's glory isn't just about being spiritual; it's about recapturing your humanity, for this is how every human being was designed to live.