// the reason we live (part 1)

DISCLAIMER: I am not theologically trained; I’m simply trying to work this all out for myself. If I am wrong; if you have greater insight or knowledge than me, please correct me or contribute to this discussion. The idea of this is to get people thinking and talking about this stuff, to work out how it all works in practice. And that involves you as much as it involves me.

INTRO

For as far back as I can remember, people have been talking about the glory of God. We sing songs about giving God the glory and we pray that He will be glorified in us, or in spite of us; we quote the Westminster Confession’s claim that the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”; many Christians (me included) see their purpose on this planet as being ‘to glorify God’. But it’s only recently that I’ve started wondering if I even know what that means. I’ve said it and sung it and prayed it so many times without even questioning what it looks like or what I’m asking God to do…

That’s what I’m trying to work out here, and over the next week, with the slightly limited resources of Newcastle public library at my disposal. This discussion started in the conversations that came out of a trip to Christian drug rehab charity Betel, attempting to work out the relationship between our musical worship and the way in which we live, and that’s why it’s called “the reason we live” – it’s intended to explore how the reason we live affects the way we sing. It’s not intended to be exhaustive, and I don’t know enough for it to be, but it is supposed to be a starting point for further exploration. To explore any of this, though, we have to go back; back to when the text in front of us starts talking about the glory of God, back to the Old Testament, and back, oddly, not to Genesis, but rather to Exodus instead…

DAY ONE

After God has handed out the Ten Commandments to Israel, in a moment some scholars believe is akin to a marriage contract, with both sides laying out the rules by which their new relationship is going to function, there’s this moment where the glory of God settles on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16). It’s one of the first mentions of the glory of God in the whole of the Bible, and it’s a revealing moment. God’s glory reveals itself here at a moment of obedience, of his people dedicating themselves to Him, and to the Israelites that glory supposedly looked like “a consuming fire” (v17) on top of the mountain. Only one man is permitted to enter the presence of God, and that’s Moses; and when he does, he is given instructions regarding the construction of a sanctuary, a “tabernacle”, in which the presence of God is going to dwell.

Still with me?

From the start of this, then, it becomes very clear that God’s glory is not something that can be defined simply. The author of Exodus struggles, and he was there.

So, he writes, there’s this cloud that descends upon Mount Sinai.

And that’s the glory of the Lord.

And from the outside it looks like “a consuming fire”.

It’s like he’s struggling for words, struggling to define what it is that he’s seeing in front of him.

Later in Exodus, too, there’s another moment where Moses asks God, “show me your glory”, and God tells him, “you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Instead, God tells Moses, “when my glory passes you by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back…” It’s another profoundly weird moment. Make no mistake, these Old Testament writers were aware of God’s glory, but aware of it as something that could be viewed at a distance, something holy enough to hurt the eyes, awe-inspiring and powerful and incomprehensible…

Throughout the Old Testament the glory of God keeps doing this. At the very end of Exodus, for example, Moses consecrates the sanctuary that the Israelites have built to carry the Ark of the Covenant around in, and then the text lists how “the cloud entered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because… the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” And much, much later, returning the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel after it’s been lost in battle, a guy called Uzzah stumbles and touches the Ark, the emblem of God’s presence with Israel. He dies immediately. (2 Samuel 6:6) God’s glory seemingly shows up sporadically, usually in moments of consecration, covenant-renewing, and His holiness is asserted in the sheer power of his presence. It’s overpowering, beyond words, mysterious and valuable and necessary, but it all started out as being something that had to be viewed at a distance.

For reasons that I’ll go into over the next week, something changed between then and now. But I don’t know that I ever realised quite what this thing that I was praying for was, or even looked like. I sing lines like “Lord, let your glory fall” without any sense of the awesome holiness that I’m asking to see or the effect that it had on the people who first spoke those words. Or the conditions that lay behind that, for that matter.

So Israel gets it wrong. Repeatedly, in fact. They keep messing up the marriage covenant that they made at that mountain, forgetting the God who they have only ever viewed at a distance, and seeing His glory less and less. Accepting that they are His chosen people, the ones whom He has set His glory among, even as they walk away from Him. Until things get bad enough that the Ark of the Covenant is captured (1 Samuel 4), and a child is named ‘Ichabod’.

“The glory has departed”.

The pattern repeats. Later Solomon builds a temple where the Ark can be stored permanently; where the glory of God can be found by all those seeking it. Over time this too is corrupted, defiled, and throughout Israel things just keep on getting worse, both in their actions and in their minds…

They weep because they lose this emblem of God’s presence with them, this thing that they can’t define but whose importance they know in spite of it. And in doing so, they rediscover their need for God’s presence, the awareness of the glory of God among them. And then they forget again, and they set up structures and systems that are entirely contrary to God’s way of doing things, and so they lose it. Again. Until, eventually, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to tell what it looks like to have the glory of God in their midst at all.

The book of Ezra describes the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple. “The people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord,” it says, “because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”

But then it continues: “many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundations of the temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No-one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise…” (Ezra 3:12-13)

It’s a haunting moment, because glory can be unquantifiable. It may appear to be there even when it’s actually departed. Things can look glorious when they are anything but; things that don’t point to God’s character or His worthiness or holiness, even as they claim to do so. The same goes for the opposite, too, and there’ll be more on that over the next week. But glory is necessary. It is emblematic of God’s presence with His people. It is complex, and baffling, and mysterious, and utterly vital…

And then, in a strange way, everything changes – even as, apparently, nothing changes.

But that – well, that’s a story for tomorrow.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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  1. hi.
    I found this site because I’ve just written a song called “The reason we live”.
    It is a little dangerous to answer questions like “What is the glory of God” in short, box like ways. But I did spend a wonderful week a few years ago at a ministry school on the topic of “the Glory of God”. In summary, I came away with at least some understanding that God’s glory is at least related to his moral impeccability. And included in that is the fact that mercy is not at all overlooked. That passage from exodus, where God passes in front of Moses, God’s glory is revealed in the words expressed, ie. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Many who read such a passage may only see harshness in the punishing to the 3rd and 4th generation, but we tend to overlook the wonder of his faithfulness to thousands (?of generations?) of those who love him. It is also noteworthy that God allowed the first generation after Moses into the promised land, when he could well have waited for 4 to pass.
    In summary, His grace, his compassion, his faithfulness, and love, and also his justice are all, somehow, components of his glory.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about meta_keyword. Regards|

  1. April 23rd, 2010

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