The word “glory” shows up many times in the Bible–somewhere around four hundred times. You will also find it in countless hymns and praise songs used in worship. It is a word which is closely tied to God but many people would probably have a difficult time defining what glory means. Even if they went to a standard dictionary they probably would not find much help. There they would see “glory” defined as “honor,” “distinction,” or “reputation.” These synonymns offer a clue to what glory is but not much more. When wanting to get a better handle on words associated with the Bible or faith I often turn to a series of books written by Frederick Buechner. (Today you can find these books compiled in a single volume called Beyond Words.) Buechner has a unique, and often humorous, way of bringing life and meaning to words we all know but may not fully understand. For me, he certainly proves helpful when it comes to comprehending what “glory” means. Here is what Buechner says:
“Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria–each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them. In the words of Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.’ It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare. Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.”
Buechner’s insight into the word glory not only helps us better understand its meaning; it shows us how we might experience the glory of God here and now. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of God may be found in God’s handiwork, through Creation. As I observed the beauty of Spring in the Appalachian mountains yesterday it was clear to me that I was beholding the glory of God. Sometimes, in fact, when I encounter the beauty of God’s Creation I actually find myself uttering the word quietly to myself, “glory, glory.”
Most of us will never experience God’s glory as Isaiah did in the Temple (Isaiah 6) or Saul (later Paul) did on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), but if we will discipline ourselves to look at nature or Creation as the Supreme Artist’s work, we will see more than enough of God to “sing glory to His name.” We may even join in with the heavenly chorus described in Revelation 4:11 saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” As you look out your window today, take a drive in your car, or saunter along a trail, keep your eyes open for the glory of God. It is there; He is there!
(I photographed the first and third image in Hawaii. The little girl is our great niece who lives in Florida. I took the bottom image yesterday near my current home in Pikeville, Ky.)