Sunday, August 16, 2020

Acknowledging the Obvious

Why do we give God glory?

It’s a good question. I was introduced to the Christian faith as a small child, so the notion of people gathering together to sing praises to God, to raise their hands in the air, to pray fervently to someone they could not see, and say complimentary things about him to one another did not seem weird to me at all. It was what I was used to, and when I was old enough to know how to imitate what these folks were doing, I joined in too, even though at that point I had no personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It was expected, so we did it.

Misunderstood Glory

I wonder how many Christians are operating that way as adults. I suspect there are more than a few.

To the world, “glory” is flattery or meaningless puffery. What kind of a God demands to be praised? they ask. There must be something wrong with God if he craves positive reinforcement from his creations, they think. Perhaps he is insecure or vain.

Far from it. Thoughts of this sort are mere projection. They take human weakness and mistakenly ascribe it to the Almighty, for whom words like insecurity and vanity have no meaning.

Incidentally, they also completely misunderstand the meaning of the word “glory”.

Making a Positive Impression

On one level, the word “glory” means beauty, splendor or impressiveness. It refers to the innate capacity to make a positive impression. So the devil could take our Lord to a very high mountain and show him “the kingdoms of the world and their glory”. In every case, there was something about the empires of past and present that would bring the ordinary human spirit to a state of gaping awe.

Mind you, I am not sure these kingdoms made quite the same impression on Jesus as they would have made on you and me. He judged value by a different metric than most.

Solomon in All His Glory

Likewise, the Lord can speak of “Solomon in all his glory”. We don’t have to guess what that means. Scripture tells us plainly. The queen of Sheba came to see Solomon at the height of his splendor, and this was her reaction:
“When the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.”
Basically, the poor woman needed to take a seat and regain her composure. She was, as we say nowadays, “blown away”. If she suffered from asthma, she took a few extra puffs of the 1000 B.C. equivalent of Ventolin and asked for a fan. She had never seen or imagined anything like this, and she was a queen herself, thoroughly acquainted with impressive displays of power, religious devotion, riches, architectural beauty, organization and intellect. But the half had not been told, and she found her senses overwhelmed.

So then, glory is a quality that makes an impression. But let us stipulate that the impression made is richly earned. The human senses and spirit are dazzled precisely because they have been exposed to something unusual, unexpected and maybe even unique.

Rightful Glory

Therefore, to give glory in a biblical sense is not to flatter or puff up. It is simply to acknowledge the obvious. Psalm 29 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” That is what God is looking for. He is not even slightly interested in unearned compliments or creative displays of human sophistry. Peter says of the Lord Jesus, “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” Glory is God’s rightful property.

Because God’s glory is an accurate expression of his own innate qualities, it is not transferable except in the case of one who is equally worthy or who has been made worthy. To bestow that glory on someone or something unworthy of it is to tell lies; it does not belong to them and they cannot wear it or bear it. So God can say in Isaiah, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”

In contrast, the Lord Jesus can say to the Father, “Glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Here the Son is not asking for anything inappropriate. He is not asking his Father to make him anything he is not already or give him anything that is not his rightful property. He is simply asking his Father to let those innate qualities he has always possessed be seen by those who have eyes to see them. He has appeared for a time veiled in flesh, and it is appropriate that the veil be lifted just a little. Real glory can be covered for a time; it cannot be taken away. And so John can say, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Designed to Glorify

The human race was designed to give glory. It is baked into our DNA. We are programmed to respond to greatness with awe. The same hardened cynics who tell us giving glory to God is somehow unbecoming and lessens us as human beings turn into fawning acolytes when the object of their worship is science, ideology, sports teams, celebrities, multiculturalism, progress, technology or even Barack Obama. It is not that they are incapable of giving glory: it is simply that they have become so warped and perverse in their thinking that they lavish glory on created beings and abstractions instead of on glory’s rightful Divine Object. They have not become objective critics of everything outside themselves; rather, they have allowed themselves to be over-impressed by things which are comparatively unimpressive.

They have worked themselves into a religious lather over something fundamentally unworthy of worship.

Adding or Diminishing Glory

It is important to realize that when we give glory to God, we are not adding a thing to him, any more than Solomon’s glory was enhanced by the words used by the queen of Sheba to describe the impression he had made on her. Had she never come to see him — frankly, had she never been born — he would have remained exactly what he was, and his kingdom would have remained every bit as spectacular. They did not exist for her sake. Likewise, by failing to observe and make much of the greatness of Solomon’s kingdom, she would not have diminished its glory one iota. It would remain what it was. The loss would be hers, not Solomon’s. A queen of Sheba who had nothing good to say about what she saw in Israel would be a woman unworthy of historical commentary. It is unlikely we would find her commemorated in the pages of God’s word.

So then, in one sense, to “give glory” is to give nothing at all, and to fail to give it is even less significant. The sheer arrogance of God’s critics is evident in their grossly inflated notion of their own self-importance. They imagine that to be called to give glory to God is to have something of value extracted from them which they should not be required to give up. Their opinion is, after all, their own. Who has the right to demand they say things like, “God is just” or “God is merciful” or “God is love” or “God is great”?

But those who refuse to acknowledge the obvious are not demonstrating their autonomy, they are demonstrating their blindness and their unwillingness to allow their spirit and senses to respond in the way God intended. Their obduracy is not a comment on God’s character, but on their own.

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