In a recent class on Wednesday nights, I have a friend who asked an interesting question: “What is God’s Glory?” Admit it, that’s not really an easy question to answer. I always sense that it was ascribing to God the honor due him, that he is worthy of our worship, praise and obedience.
If you spend much time in church, you hear God’s glory mentioned all the time. Contemporary songs and classic hymns celebrate God’s glory. Many worship traditions include the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…” Preachers tell us we should seek to glorify God in all we do. In the Reformed tradition, the catechism reminds us that the chief purpose of our lives is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
But, have you ever wondered what the glory of God really is? When we speak of God’s glory, what are we talking about? How do you answer my friend’s question?
According to theologian Millard Erickson, the Hebrew word for “glory” refers to a perceivable attribute (an individual’s display of splendor, wealth and pomp), but in relation to God, it does not point to a particular attribute, but rather to the greatness of God’s entire nature.
Ezekiel 10:4 helps us to get a glimpse of and understand God’s glory: “Then the LORD’s glory rose from above the winged creatures and moved toward the temple’s threshold. The temple was filled with the cloud, and the courtyard was filled with the brightness of the LORD’s glory.” The word translated here as “glory” is kabod in Hebrew. This word comes from a root with the basic meaning of “heavy.” From this root word came a word meaning “rich.” Ancient Hebrews would refer to a rich person as “heavy in wealth” much as we might say someone is loaded. The literal sense of kabod also included being loaded with power, reputation, or honor. It’s from this use of the word that we get the meaning of glory.
So, God’s glory is God’s weightiness in wonderful qualities such as might, beauty, goodness, justice, worthiness and honor. When it comes to these characteristics and so many others, God has them in superabundance.
When we think of God’s glory, we remember that God has all good things in greater quantity and quality than we can ever imagine. Notice, also, that God’s glory is solid and substantial. It isn’t mere reputation. It isn’t dependent on anyone or anything else. God’s glory reflects his essential nature.
Yet the notion of heaviness does not fully convey the glory of God. In fact, if we equate God’s glory with heaviness, we might miss an essential quality of his glory. Look again at Ezekiel 10:4. God’s glory is not like a giant rock that sits there passively because it is so large it cannot do anything else. Rather, God’s glory shines like the sun.
In fact, if we’re looking for an image to represent the glory of God, the sun is a strong candidate. For one thing, the sun is the heaviest object in our solar system (with a weight estimated at more than a hundred times that of the earth). But, of course, the sun doesn’t just sit there. It is continuously active, burning so fiercely that it lights and warms the earth, which is about 93 million miles away.
The similarity between God’s glory and the sun is found in Scripture. Consider the promise of Isaiah 60:19: “The sun will no longer be your light by day, nor will the moon shine for illumination by night. The LORD will be your everlasting light; your God will be your glory.” This promise comes true in the vision of the heavenly city found in Revelation 21:23: “The city doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
In the New Testament, the Greek word for “glory” is doxa, which conveys the meaning of brightness, splendor, magnificence and fame. Check out how it is used in the New Testament:
- Jesus prays that the Father would glorify him as he had glorified the Father (John 17:1-5)
- We see his glory at the resurrection (Acts 3:13-15, 1 Peter 1:21)
- We see it at the glorious second coming of Jesus (Matthew 24:30)
You and I are called to live our lives in the light of God’s glory. We do so when we acknowledge his glory in worship, and when we live worshipfully each moment, reflecting the glory of God in the world.