I will never forget that evening. I can’t think of a moment when I was more blown away by a musical composition.
I don’t recall the composer or the conductor, but I was at a performance played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. My ticket put me in the first row and it was worth it. The music was powerful, foreboding, amazing, haunting, compelling and glorious, all at the same time.
There were moments when I wished this night would never end, and moments when I wanted to get up and run out of the concert hall. There were moments when the music caused my chest to rattle and moments when it lured me in with a whisper. There were moments when musical joy collided with musical fear in a beautiful disharmony of sound.
When the performance was over, I felt both sad and exhausted. I wanted more, and yet at the same time I felt like I had had enough. I didn’t know why this particular performance had affected me so deeply until I looked at the program and saw the name of the composition. It read: God, the most formidable word ever spoken.
TRYING TO CAPTURE GLORY
What I experienced that night was the attempt of a very gifted composer to capture God—in all his amazing and variegated glory—in a single piece of music. In one sense, it was a triumphant effort, and in another sense, a dismal and embarrassing failure.
For any human being to think that they could capture the glory of God in a single artistic statement is delusional at best and vain at worst. To squeeze what is infinite into what is finite is vastly more impossible than trying to cram the entire body of fully-developed elephant into a thimble. No matter how gifted you are or how hard you try, it just won’t happen! The composer, the conductor, and the orchestra had done marvelously well by human standards, but with their grandest effort, they only captured less than a drop of the never-ending ocean that is the glory of God.
Glory is not a thing, like a shoe, a steak, a candle or a cottage. Those are particular physical items that could be so carefully described with words that you would immediately have an accurate picture in your mind of what is being talked about. One could draw a picture of a shoe or take a photograph of a cottage and you could see it and know what it was. But glory isn’t like that.
No single drawing, painting, photograph or verbal description could ever capture glory. Glory isn’t so much a thing as it is a description of a thing. Glory isn’t a part of God; it’s all that God is. Every aspect of who God is and every part of what God does is glorious. But even that’s not enough of a description. Not only is he glorious in every way, but his very glory is glorious!
WHAT IS GLORY?
With many other doctrines in Scripture, we typically run to a couple of default passages that describe the issue at hand, and we feel as if we’re able to walk away with some general understanding of that topic. But that strategy doesn’t work with the doctrine of God’s glory, because God’s glory lives above and beyond any type of description or definition.
You can say for sure that God is glorious—your Bible declares that he is—but you cannot accurately and fully describe in words the glory that Scripture declares. Perhaps the only workable path into some understanding of the grandeur of the glory of God is to read the entire Bible from cover to cover over and over again, looking for divine glory. Why? Because the glory of God isn’t defined in his Word; no, his glory is so grand that it splashes across every page of his book.
That being said, there are places where Scripture attempts to define the hugeness of the glory of God with the smallness of human language so we can get a glimpse of what it’s like. For example: The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, stretches human language to its furthest point of elasticity in order to give us a little glimpse of God’s glory. He writes, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?” (Isaiah 40:12).
I’ve actually done this, and it would be a good word picture for you to attempt. Go to your sink, turn it on, and see how much water you can cup in the palm of your hand before it starts spilling out. Then, consider that your God can hold all of the liquid in the universe and not spill a single drop!
Isaiah continues: “[He] has weighed the mountains in a scale… Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket [to him]… [He] stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in”(Isaiah 40: 12, 15, 22).
The prophet is employing incalculably huge word pictures to help us have a minuscule glimpse of understanding into how glorious God is. Yet even these very picturesque and helpful descriptions fall miserably short of capturing the awesome glory of God.
So, when the Bible speaks of God’s glory, what is it talking about? The doctrine of God’s glory encompasses the greatness, beauty and perfection of all that he is.
In everything that he is and in everything that he does, God is greater than human description. Every attribute and action of God is stunningly beautiful in every way. Each characteristic of God and every accomplishment from his hand is totally perfect. This is what we mean when we talk about God’s glory.
The stunning reality of this universe is that there exists One who is the greatest, the most beautiful and the most perfect in every way. God is gloriously great, gloriously beautiful and gloriously perfect. There is none like him; he has no rivals, and no valid comparisons can be made to him. He is the great Other, in a category of his own beyond our ability to estimate, understand or describe.
Every part of God is glorious in every way possible; there’s nothing more to be said. And because God is glorious in every possible way, he alone stands in this vast universe as the only One who is worthy of the worship, surrender and love of every human heart.