The things I am about to speak are not speculation, but vital to my experience. I regularly sense the reality of what I am sharing, even if I struggle to express it in non – theological language. My heart knows that the Spirit of God is struggling to articulate through me one of the great neglected themes of our time: the glory of God. “Glory” means sharing in God’s deepest being. We are desperately missing the manifestation of such a divine presence in the Western Church for two primary reasons.
Firstly, the affluent church hates sacrifice. When the Holy Spirit is calling us to glorify God through love by sacrifice we find it very difficult to hear him. Yet there is no other way to glorify God in a fallen world than by voluntary suffering. Secondly, we have become confused about who God is. The church’s confusion about the pattern of God’s own love life as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is overwhelming. In hearing prayer to the “Lord”, “Father”, “God”, “Jesus” all jumbled in random order we know we are in deep spiritual trouble. The only place to start with understanding how God wants to pour out his glory amongst us is to start with the life of God himself.
The Glory of God
In asking, “What is the meaning of God’s life”, we must answer,” God lives to glorify God”. Glory was at the heart of the divine life in eternity (John 17:5); in a circle of eternal love Father, Son and Spirit glorified one another. The Father filled the Son by extolling his excellence, wonder, beauty, wisdom and goodness and the Son reciprocated likewise. All of this was energised in the power of the Spirit of God. Each of the Persons recognised who they were through the glorifying action of the others, and with this, knew their absolute distinctiveness from each other. In this circle of mutual valuing the whole Godhead gloried.
The very essence of God is loving desire, infinite and absolute desire in God; Father for Son, Son for Father, Spirit for Father in Son and Son in Father. This involves absolute, endless passionate self – giving. It is a giving that enfolds itself in creation.
Created for Glory
God created from within his innermost being to bring creatures within the self-giving, circulating nature of his glory. The “holy angels” dwell in glory (Luke 9:26) and perceive that “the whole earth is full of his (LORD’s) glory” (Isa 6:3). God speaks of “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa 43:7). Man “is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7). Human beings were made to share in the fullness of the divine life as God shares in his life as Father, Son and Spirit.
This glorious sharing was especially present in the creation of Man as male – and – female (Gen 1:26 – 28). When Adam exclaimed with holy passion, ““This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” ” (Gen 2:23), he was participating in an eternal movement. In recognising himself as a man through a woman (and she in turn), Adam entered into the way in which the Persons of the Trinity have endlessly gloried in their irreducible and complementary distinctiveness. In the glory of marriage the command “to fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) was to be discharged. The first couple knew their call was to fill the earth the earth with the divine glory at the centre of their relationship.
Glory however is not a passive state. Participation in glory is intimately related to sharing God’s desire to be God in the way he loves himself (Father to Son to Spirit). To reach the glory of immortality (Rom 2:7), Adam and Eve needed to desire an intimate and personal relationship with God for themselves.
When the serpent taunted Eve, ““You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:4 – 5), he opened up to her the promise of personal immortality apart from God. She as a solitary being could possess endless life in – herself. This startling proposition was irresistible. When “the woman saw …that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen 3:6), she desired the fruit of the tree with her total being. She no longer had space in her heart for the presence of God. As such, the divine glory departed (1 Sam 4:21).
Instead of eternal life Adam and Eve found death, for they had fallen “short of the glory of God” (Rom 1:23). Aware that they had become separated from the life of God (Eph 4:18) they immediately felt shame, for shame is the sense of the loss of the divine glory. Tragically, the first humans failed to see that to have been created “like God” (Gen 1:26) was to draw life from God as God has always drawn life from himself, in the eternal co-dependency of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Needing to find glory and meaning somewhere, fallen human beings have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:22 – 23). So began the universal human infatuation with idols – religious, political, sensory and so on. God hates idols, not because he is insecure, but idols substitute for the one thing that has no substitute, his life-giving presence. “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa 42:8). The war between God and idols is accelerating with ferocious intensity in our day.
The Hatred of Idols
From the threat of militant Islam to Western nations to the murderous rampages of radical Hindus in India and the anti – Christian Buddhism in Sri Lanka, all idols are expressions of demonic power. The brute and ugly fact is that behind all fanaticism lies a human obsession with an image of a god (or some ultimate entity), who does not have it in himself to glorify himself. The deficit in the passion of the idol for its worshippers is compensated for by the devotees own driven desire to make the god seem real – by jihad, self – sacrifice, or any other means. What the church in our day needs to desperately realise is that nothing other than the manifest presence of Christ’s glory can conquer the spiritual reality behind these evil powers.
Jesus Ends Other Glories
The famous hymn of Philippians 2:5 -11 contains two fundamental movements, the downwards movement of Christ’s humiliation, “he emptied himself…even death on a cross”, and the upwards movement of Christ’s exaltation, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The first movement is called “kenosis” and the second “plerosis”. The transition from Jesus immersion in the empty glory-less state of fallen humanity to the restoration of the glory of God is totally dependent on the desire of the Godhead to fully share its glory with humanity. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24). The desire expressed by Jesus in these words is completely at one with the eternal and absolute desire of God for God, Father, Son and Spirit. God’s passionate desire for us will prove far greater than all evil desires.
As Jesus approaches his death this longing for eternal union with humanity breaks forth in the tenderest way. “And he said to them, “I have desired with desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 22:15 – 16). Between this final meal of Jesus with his brothers and its perfect fulfilment in the eternal kingdom lies Jesus desire to complete all that the Father has asked of him in the depth of his suffering on the cross.
“So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself….43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”” (Matt 27:41- 43). If God did desire his Son, how can we explain the terrible cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). Only one word can explain this shocking paradox, “God loves us more than he loves himself.” (T. F. Torrance).
This sounds scandalous and impossible. Yet, if in all eternity the love of God never involved a sacrifice, and if the measure of love is sacrifice, God loves man more than he ever loved himself. This MUST mean God glorifies man in a deeper way he ever glorified himself. But, “man” is not humanity apart from Jesus. The humanity that is deemed worthy of the sacrificial experience of the absence of all God’s loving desire for his Son in the cross is humanity as it is included “in Christ”. This is humanity as it exists solely in the death, resurrection and exaltation of the Son of God.
Since God has loved man in the humanity of Jesus Christ more than he ever loved himself, this must mean God has glorified himself in Christ in a new way. In pouring his being selflessly into the flesh of Jesus, he has opened up a way into creation so that “he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10) with the “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14). The mystery of the ages, the utterly unfathomable thing for fallen and perishing humans to grasp, is that God has revealed the full extent of his glory by expanding it to include us. The “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) means God’s glory now has a human face. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2). The content of the gospel is that through Christ eternal life is sharing in the endless glory of the one true God (Rev 22:3 – 5; John 17:3).
You’re Killing Me
Jesus knew the how the power of false desire frustrates the growth of the kingdom of God. “And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19).
We are surely in a time when the “desires for other things” has turned most of the Western church unfruitful. We desire money, position, popularity, healthy and prosperous lifestyle, ministry and many other things before we desire God. Yet we have been redeemed for only one purpose, “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6; 12, 14).
Several times in my life, once quite recently, I have had to cry out to the Lord. “You are killing me.” Killing my self-interest in everything other than his honour, praise and glory (1 Pet 1:7). At such times I believe I am entering into the laboured anguish praying of the father of the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox, who said, “Give me Scotland or I die.” Or, Jonathan Edwards persistent plea during three nights without food or drink, “Give me New England or I die.” These sorts of prayers are surely answered.
We live in an age where the individual self is worshipped above all things. Contrary to this, Christian maturity is realising life could never be about my personal well-being. For I am merely an individual, and God is a community of mutually glorifying Persons – Father, Son, Spirit in an endless passion of relational love. God has called us out of our self-centredness “to his eternal glory in Christ” (1 Pet 5:10). He has not higher thing to give you than himself.
What are those things that you desire more than him? What are the matters that occupy your mind with greater vitality than your passion for the Son of God? Are you a time waster, television addict, sexual fantasist, people pleaser? Do you put your family, your health, your ministry or your work before the glory of the living God? Is there in your heart a clear and persistent sense, “I will definitely give my life for this vocation to which God has called me?” Without this sense, “glory” will be to you just another religious word. This eternal principle remains the meaning of the universe, love brings glory through sacrifice. In this, as always, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
 And its fruit, such as conversions, healings, justice, mercy etc.
 It would also be true that God lives to love God, but more ultimately, love glorifies. Important biblical foundations for this doctrine include Ex 33:18; Acts 7:2; Eph 1:17; Heb 1:3; 1 Pet 4:14.
 Man here stands for humanity, and male plus female together represents the fullness of the divine image.
 God alone is essentially immortal; humans could only receive deathlessness as a gift through obedient faith.
 The phrase “images resembling” echoes the Greek of Genesis 1:26, “in our image, after our likeness”. By idolatry humans try to remake themselves, as if they were God!
 “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.” (1 Cor 10:19 – 20)
 This must include fanatical forms of “Christianity”, various patriotisms and so on.
 This expands the definition of idolatry to atheistic political systems, like Marxism.
 From the Greek words for emptiness and fullness respectively.
 Compare, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5).
 The verb form is pleroo, from which plerosis/fullness comes.
 Before he preached that most famous of all sermons, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”,