I suspect ‘Glory’ is one of those words that christians tend to use without having much idea of what it actually means. Sometimes an expletive and sometimes an acclamation, neither use provides us with much substance.
When we find ourselves using words – especially words from Scripture – without thought or carelessly, then it’s usually worth pausing to invite the Spirit to unfold their meaning for us.
Because our Father never uses words casually.
Dependent on the context, glory can usually be understood as this:
A revelation of the intrinsic qualities and true character of a person or thing.
Hence Jesus displayed his Father’s glory by disclosing what God is really like.
A day is coming when all will see the glory of Jesus, as he is revealed for who he truly is.
And – astonishingly – the New Testament affirms that on this day we will be glorious alongside him, as we are revealed for who we truly are.
We are more infused with glory than we often fear,
though less than we might sometimes like to assume.
So far, so academic. But glory is not simply a detached, future thing.
First the good news:
Jesus declared that he has already shared a key element of his glory with us:
“The glory you [Father] gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one.”
Our deep oneness with each other is a sign of our true identity as children of the three-in-one, interrelated God. And when we fail to display this, we are betraying our true identity; our privileged heritage and our glorious destiny.
Then the not-so-good news:
There seems to be a deeply disturbing connection between glory and suffering. Bluntly, it seems that typically, suffering is the pathway to glory.
It was true for Jesus, who explained: “Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
It was true for his first followers who are taught: “…rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.”
And – awkwardly – it seems true for believers more generally: “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Why must this be so? Be cautious of anyone who claims to fully understand this. Yet somewhere in the mystery and the pain there lie (at least) these two truths:
- We live in contested space, the overlap of the ages, in a world still broken and oppressed by a different ruler. We don’t fully belong, and as ‘strangers in a strange land’ we are vulnerable. Until the new day dawns suffering remains, and is especially orchestrated against forerunners of that coming age.
- While I do not believe that our loving Father typically ordains suffering for us, he will always walk with us and work with us in our vulnerability, causing the hateful wounds that the deceiver inflicts to rebound against him, and using trials to reshape us in ways that nothing else ever could.
In our Father’s hands, lethal crosses lead to empty tombs,
though clinging to this reality is hard during the period between.
Master, help me to hold on to your promises:
“… trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
“And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
And Spirit, help me to keep faith and keep focus, to learn the truth that:
“… we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”