The Westminster Shorter Catechism states: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We’ve been put here on earth to glorify and enjoy God. That’s huge! But if asked to explain what God’s glory actually is, I find many Christians can’t, which is ironic if you think of how often the words ‘glory’ and ‘glorify’ come up in our prayers and worship.
I think that’s because some words are harder than others to define. Take the words hammer and talent for instance. If somebody says they don’t know what a hammer is you can use your hands to describe it and what its used for and they’d have a pretty good idea what a hammer is. But you can’t do that with the word talent. To be understood some words have to be experienced or seen making it very difficult to try to put the word talent into words. The same goes for the word glory. It’s hard to get a handle on exactly what God’s glory is.
But it becomes easier if we first take a look at the word holiness. Holy is a word that sets something apart. It’s other than; different or unlike. Holy comes from outside the known and familiar. Applied to God it refers to him being in a class by himself. There’s no one or nothing we can compare him to. God is infinitely perfect, powerful, loving, knowing and different.
In Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, the angels weren’t flying around declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. The whole earth is full of his holiness.” No, instead they say, “his glory fills the earth”! This gives us a clue to the meaning of glory. Holiness and glory are connected. If holy describes God as outside and beyond anything we can imagine or approach, “glory” describes that which is here, close by, evident. Glory literally means “weighty” – something that has substance to it and can be grasped. That’s why when God’s glory breaks in on us we sense a change in the atmosphere of the room. The air gets thick, close, weighty. Remember what happened at the dedication of the temple? God showed up and the “cloud of God’s glory” filled the place. So the glory of God is the visible, perceptible beauty of his invisible, infinite holiness. It’s the way he puts his holiness on display for us to see, experience, and make some sense of. Therefore to wake up to God’s holiness is to see or experience his glory. Like when we catch a glimpse of God in a magnificent sunrise or as we gaze up into the Milky Way or when we experience God’s felt-presence in worship. Holy and glory are two words that name what’s going on around us: “holy” for the unseen, “glory” for the seen.
So when the Catechism talks about us glorifying God, it’s talking about our awareness of and response to his holiness. You might say its putting God’s holiness on display in our lives. Paul had some practical things to say about this to the Corinthians.
14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ… 16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3:14,16-18)
He makes two points. First, there’s a veil over our minds, hearts and our faces that keeps us from God. But when we turned to Christ that veil was removed. With the Spirit’s help we can now know and understand God. We can see his glory and have it shape our lives. The secondly, there should be no veils between the world and us. Paul says that unlike Moses who wore a veil to hide God’s glory because his glowing face freaked the people out, our duty is to show God’s glory to the world:
But we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.
Paul uses the image of a mirror reflecting light. Similarly, we’re to be like mirrors reflecting God’s glory out to the world around us. And in the process, as we reflect Christ’s glory, we ourselves are changed. The more reflecting we do the more we become like Jesus. Paul’s point is that we mustn’t keep this transformation hidden from the world. God’s glory is to shine through us. It’s to be seen and put on view in our lives.
We were put here on earth to be mirrors. We are to glorify God.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the GLORY OF GOD.” (1Corinthians 10:31)
However there are forces in us and around us that constantly threaten to turn us into veils. The greatest of which is the sin-disease of ‘self’. When I let selfishness control me; when I’m being self-serving, self-promoting, self-protecting, self-absorbed I’m veiling God’s glory from the world. Every time I allow fear, greed, dishonesty, lust, anger, rudeness, unkindness get the best of me, I’m keeping God’s glory hidden.
The Spirit is constantly at work in us removing veils. Our job is to cooperate with this work by confessing our sin, keeping our consciences clear, keeping in step with him and spending time in the presence of Jesus.
That same sin-disease of self can veil God’s glory in my worship. When I make worship about me; when I turn it into performance; when I use it as a means to an end rather than for God alone, I’m hiding God’s glory. This is not uncommon. I’ll get into this more in my next post. Stay tuned.
For now, ask yourself, “Am I a mirror or a veil?”