Christians love to talk and dream about the glory of God. In fact, I would venture so far as to say that the manifestation of God’s glory is one of the most highly prized and sought-after phenomena in the charismatic and pentecostal segments of the church.
Biblical references to God’s glory being manifested abound. Whether it’s the bush that burned but was not consumed, Moses being allowed a glimpse of the glory from behind as God passed by, or the priests being unable to minister into the temple because the glory fell, there’s plenty of biblical precedent for awe-inducing encounters with the glory of God.
In keeping with these Old Testament accounts, many Christians tend to equate God’s glory with highly experiential phenomena. So, for example, we will talk about an intense worship time when God’s glory descended, or a conference where God revealed his glory. In fact, when you really think about it, these experiences of God’s glory tend to mostly be exclusively in-house affairs – events where Christians gather in eager anticipation and apparently experience the presence of God in an extraordinary way. In recent years, there’s even been a trend among some churches and groups of claiming to see visible “glory clouds” of gold dust when people break through to a particularly deep level of worship.
Now, let me say that I have no particular problem with the idea that God can choose to manifest his glory in this kind of experiential way. Indeed, at face value, the Old Testament examples I quoted above all seem to corroborate this. However, I don’t think this is how God primarily chooses to reveal his glory; in fact, I think it’s probably relatively unusual for him to show his glory in this kind of way.
I’m not saying all those amazing worship times where people feel the hair stand up on the backs of their necks are completely fake, and that nothing is happening. However, I do think these things are often over-egged and made out to be some kind of extraordinary divine visitation when, in reality, they are simply examples of the power of shared experience fuelled by a heightened emotional state.
But just why is that we are so drawn to this view of God’s glory as the unveiling of the spectacular and the experience of the dramatic? I would say the reasons are largely human and cultural.
First, at the human level, we are creatures who are marked and shaped by events. We look for meaning in what is happening around us and to us (this surely explains the enduring popularity of horoscopes even in this supposedly enlightened age). This is not a criticism: it’s merely a statement of the way things are. Given our inherent tendency to look for events that we can memorialise and from which we can derive meaning and significance, it’s not all that surprising that we should mainly look for the manifestation of God’s glory in church meetings and conferences.
Second, we live in a culture that is obsessed by the dramatic, the spectacular and the out-of-the-ordinary. The quiet and the commonplace do not set tongues wagging, sell newspapers or attract audience ratings. And we are naive to the extreme if we think that, as Christians, we are somehow immune to this cultural thirst for the sensational.
Let me ask two further questions, then: just what is God’s glory, and how does he primarily manifest it?
For me, God’s glory is essentially the unveiling of the person and character of God in our three-dimensional world. It is witnessed whenever something happens that enables the greater reality of God’s all-pervading presence to pierce the veil of our limited human understanding and experience. To repeat what I said earlier, I won’t deny that this unveiling sometimes takes the form of spectacular phenomena. But I don’t believe this is how God primarily chooses to reveal his glory.
So how does God most clearly manifest his person and character in our world? Historically, the answer is obvious: God is most clearly revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what about today, when Jesus is no longer walking this earth?
The answer is that Jesus is still walking this earth, as he has been these past two thousand years. True, he may no longer be walking it in his personal, physical body; but by his spirit he lives in each and every one of his children, who he identifies so clearly with himself that he even calls us his body.
In light of all of the above, then, there is one final question to be answered: how does God reveal his glory in the earth today?
Given that Jesus is the clearest revelation of God’s person and nature, and that we are the walking, talking body of Jesus on earth here in the twenty-first century, here’s the conclusion I come to: the glory of God is most clearly revealed and experienced wherever God’s children, who are the body of Jesus, are living in imitation of Jesus.
Now, you might point out that Jesus was no stranger to the spectacular and the dramatic. He performed an array of miracles and, in the greatest miracle of all, was himself raised from death to life. Should we not then, as his followers and imitators, be seeking to perform similarly spectacular feats?
I don’t really want to address that question here, as it would risk taking us off course and onto a different track. What I do want to point out is that most of Jesus’ public life was not spent doing miracles. Rather, it was spent pouring his life into others, speaking words of compassion and mercy to the lonely and the neglected, dignifying the lowly and the downtrodden, modelling acceptance to the excluded and the marginalised, and demonstrating true humility and servanthood.
I want to suggest, then, that the most authentic manifestations of God’s glory in the world today are not found in worship gatherings, however, “awesome” they might be, or at conferences, however famous and compelling the speakers are. If you want to see God’s glory, don’t look for big events with rocking music, flashing lights and a dynamic line-up. Look instead for those who are giving up their time to feed and clothe the homeless, welcoming the lonely into their homes for a meal and a chat, taking care of the sick and the rejected, speaking forgiveness to the guilt-ridden and offering peace to a violent world. You won’t often find such people in the spotlight, because they understand that God’s glory is drawn not to the sensational and the popular but to the weak, the little, the last, the least and the lost.
Now, if only we could encourage people to follow the example of these humble glory-carriers as enthusiastically as they flock from one awesome spiritual experience to the next in search of God’s glory, perhaps the scripture with which I opened this post might be fulfilled a lot sooner.
[ Image: Adam Rozanas ]