The Glory of God

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter in Year C of the Lectionary Cycle. In yesterday’s post we placed the Sunday gospel in content vis-a-vis the flow of events of Holy Week, as well, in the content of John’s larger project that is the whole Gospel. We are no longer in the “Book of Signs” but since John 12:23 are in the following section known as the “Book of Glory.” Our short gospel is from John 13:31-35 and can be divided into three parts:

  • vv. 31-32 – the glorification of God and Jesus
  • v. 33 – Jesus’ departure
  • vv. 34-35 – the commandment to love.

If someone asked what is meant by the Glory of God, how would you respond? A good start would be to look to the Hebrew Scriptures to gain some sense of how the apostles and disciples might have understood Jesus’ use of the term.

In the Old Testament we quickly find a variety of terms, images and events, not a single, well-defined concept to describe the Glory of God.. In fact, it is probably best to treat the word as something of a cipher used to point to the “godliness of God” as it has appeared rather than as a notion with a meaning already defined which is then applied to God.

In the OT kabod is perhaps the most important of many related words and refers in its root meaning to what is weighty, important or impressive. It is the concrete, sensible impact and power of the transcendent God’s appearance in the world. It would be utterly foreign to Old Testament (OT) people to conceive of a direct experience of God but God’s glory is God’s self-revelation insofar as human beings are given to experience it.

Thus we find glory associated with God’s name. It refers basically to the power, holiness, majesty and splendor of this Lord. According to the OT, these can be recognized in a variety of ways. Central, of course, are the ways in which God reveals God’s glory in Israel’s history. God’s appearance on the scene is frequently associated with natural phenomena such as the dark cloud, a devouring tire, thunder and lightning, earthquake and storm. Such occurrences are meant to signal the presence of the transcendent Lord who acts in power for Israel’s salvation. The manifestation on Mount Sinai, which may be viewed as the climax of the Exodus, is foundational. Here God’s glory is seen in God’s absolute lordship. God’s power overcomes all other gods and nations in order to liberate Israel and graciously enter into a covenant with them. Throughout the OT, the glory of the Lord is associated with all the places connected with God’s earthly appearances: Sinai, the Tent of Meeting, Solomon’s Temple. Especially in the Psalms we find the further reflection that the glory revealed by the Lord in Israel’s liberation is the very glory and power of the creator of all. And so, in speaking of God’s glory, the Psalms refer to the creative, sustaining and ordering power of God evident in the awesome beauty and majesty of the cosmos. Finally, in the Prophets and Psalms, the glory of God refers in a special way to the kingdom of covenant peace and justice which God will establish in its fullness at the end of time. All of the different perspectives find a central unity in the recognition that God’s glory is what humans are graciously given to experience of God and God’s saving action in the world.

In the OT we also find that glory is something which men and women are expected to give God. In view of what we have said above, this can only mean giving acknowledgement to the glory which belongs to and is revealed and established by God. Thus, giving God the glory refers to the obedient response of faith to God’s saving action in history.  (John R. Sachs, S.J., “Glory” in The New Dictionary of Theology, eds. Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins and Dermot A. Lane (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

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