For some of us, the word glory causes mental fatigue. The more it’s said, the less we know what it means. Perhaps when we talk about “glorifying God,” we are overwhelmed to the point of despair, fear, or boredom. Like the word miracle, today glory is ascribed to just about anything under the sun.
In the Old Testament, not everything could be called glorious. The word kavod is a serious word and literally means heavy. When Moses tells God that he can’t go speak to Pharaoh, he says its “because I am slow [heavy] of speech and slow [heavy] of tongue.” (Ex. 4:10) The word kavod has strong figurative meaning. The heaviness of something was its importance or honor. One is commanded in the Torah to “honor [kaved] your father and mother.” Someone honored a guest by offering them refreshments [kivud]. Isaiah the Prophet loves the word glory, and describes the train of God’s robes filling the temple as indicative of the whole earth being full of God’s heavyness or glory [kavod] (6:3)
Simply put, God doesn’t do anything lightly—whatever God does, it’s done with kavod.
The New Testament word for glory is doxa. Doxa enjoys a broader semantic range—it can mean a number of things. Classical Greeks (prior to the time of the NT) thought of doxa as the domain of opinion, belief, or of probable knowledge (as opposed to knowledge that we can be certain about). A more contemporary (but still before the time of Jesus) meaning of doxa can mean the sets of beliefs that are agreed upon by the members of a particular community. Doxa is valuable, therefore, to making decisions, creating and sustaining that which brings order, and upholding that which is valuable to a society.
I’ve often wondered about how this old definition of doxa might relate to the New Testament word for glory and the community of believers gathered in Jesus’ name.
So here are some very brief thoughts.
If doxa belongs to the realm of humans, then glory is limited to the domain of human perspective and understanding, and, therefore, belongs only to the realm of probability. But if doxa belongs to God (i.e. the NT phrase: glory of God), then God’s glory is that which, according to God, brings honor, order, and value.
Take Paul’s command: “do everything to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) There’s an implied “no” to the doxa of human beings here and a command to act in accordance with God’s best – the glory of God.
Think about this famous verse: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Paul probably has in mind there Psalm 8:5, which says that God crowned human beings with glory and honor. But how can humans help but do anything but fall short of God’s glory?
Consider an illuminating example: “Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory.” (Heb 1:3) If that is true (which I believe it to be), then the human doxa, meets the kavod of God’s weighty eternal actions. In this sense, doxa is not merely belief or opinion as something passively received. Rather, Jesus is the “yes” answer to the dialogue within God’s self as to what is best, rational, true, honorable, and good.
How does this help me worship? Encountering Jesus, encountering the Glory of God in the face of Christ, is more than coming down with or affirming a set of knowledge and opinions, but a relational experience with the very mind of God, revealed in the flesh.
How does this help me to live out my faith better? If Jesus is God’s best, than our best can only be found in following Jesus. Irenaeus, a theologian in the ancient church, said this famous line: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” This is sometimes translated, “The glory of God is man living.”
How do I respond to God’s glory? We live out our faith, not depending on our own opinions, wisdom or strength, but on God’s. We walk by faith and not by sight. We shift our attention to Jesus, who IS the glory of God, and a human “fully alive.” We take part in the grace and love at work on earth in the here and now. As we ascribe glory only to things that are worthy of it we will experience the life of aliveness. As members of God’s eternal kingdom we slowly regain our sense of having been “crowned with glory and honor.” (Ps. 8:5)
Pastor Paul Stephen Olson