Getting hold of ‘glory’

During conversations about glory, and the book I’m trying to write on the subject, reactions vary. Part of this, I expect, is because the term itself is slippery (Gordon Fee says that talking about glory is like picking up mercury with your fingers). But it’s a word that shows up often in both Old and New Testaments, and so trying to get a bit of a grip on it seems worth the attempt. With that in mind, a few preliminary observations about ways ‘glory’ gets used:

1. In association with bright lights and loud noises. A range of phenomena appear when glory is on the scene, so much so that folks often equate glory with the fireworks. But it looks like glory is what produces the lightning and thunder, the way a car horn, when you press the steering wheel in just the right place, yields a satisfying honk. Of course, this raises another question: if glory only produces phenomena, where does glory itself come from?

2. As a synonym for heaven. Headin’ on to glory land–or some such phrase–pops up in songs, poems, and general conversation of religious folk who know that glory is ‘over there’. Scripture uses the word this way on occasion, but it’s probably a mistake to think we must wait until we die before truly experiencing glory.

3. As a catchword for the honor we give to others on account of who they are or what they’ve done. It’s a handy way of encompassing some marvelous ideas, lifting us as it does into the rarefied air of worthiness, courage, and beauty. In the Bible, doxologies are common–those outbursts of praise that ‘give glory to God’ (the Greek word for glory is doxa–hence that word…). A surprise? That God gives glory to people, too. A problem? That people can at times want to hoard glory (and/or its cheap imitations of fame and wealth) for themselves rather than giving it to another–especially God.

4. As a name for God. Samuel refers to God in this way (1 Sam 15:29), and so do a Psalmist (106:20), Jeremiah (2:11), and Hosea (4:7). Paul may have it in mind as he considers the attitude of sinners (see Romans 1:23), and Peter likes the name as well (2 Peter 1:17). All this means there’s enough data to form a  separate category, even though this use of ‘glory’ doesn’t register very often.

There’s more to all this–and I’m still trying to fit things together. Meanwhile, if your own thinking about or experience with glory would lead you to add a comment here, I’d be grateful!

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