The reward of a faithful life

What would it be like to experience the glory of God?

The Bible speaks of glory repeatedly, perhaps most famously in the Old Testament stories of Moses asking to see God’s glory (Exod 33:18-23) or of God’s presence with his people in the cloud (e.g., Exod 24:16, 40:34) and in the fire (e.g., Exod 24:17; Deut 5:23-25).  The glory of God in Jesus is described in terms of light and radiance (Heb 1:3; cf. also Matt 17:2), and Paul makes the astonishing claim that we are steadily being transformed into Jesus’ glorious image by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).

In addition, the New Testament promise of future glory is frequently given in response to present suffering (e.g., Rom 8:18; Heb 2:9-10; 1 Pet 4:13, 5:1,10).  We are told that when Jesus returns, believers “will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pet 5:4).  Hang in there, we are encouraged; stay faithful and keep your eyes fixed on the glory that awaits.

In Hebrew, the notion of glory carries the suggestion of weightiness and substance–hence the title of a marvelous sermon by C. S. Lewis entitled “The Weight of Glory.”  In an earlier post, I reflected on Lewis’ humility as a person; in his sermon, Lewis puzzled over the meaning of humility in the face of biblical promises of future reward and glory.  Doesn’t humility mean unselfishness and self-denial?  Then what are we to do with “the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels”?  Doesn’t that make the Christian life “a mercenary affair”?

My previous post on parents praising their children out of delight rather than an attempt to shape their behavior was actually prompted by Lewis’ answer to the above questions.  We shouldn’t think of promised rewards as payment for a life well lived.  Anyone who must work primarily for the paycheck already knows the distinction.  The work isn’t intrinsically rewarding; we only do it for the money.  To think of future glory in this way trades grace back in for the old religion of works.

But what, then?  Lewis, penetrating beneath the reward-denying notion of humility as unselfishness, writes this:

I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child–not in a conceited child, but in a good child–as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. …Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures–nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. …And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please.  There will be no room for vanity then.

Is it possible that a day will come when we stand before God and know that he delights in us?  That for all our use of the words “heavenly Father,” we might actually fully and finally experience him with the heart of a beloved child?  Such is our anticipation of glory:

The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us…shall find approval, shall please God.  To please God…to be…delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.  But so it is.

The reward of a faithful life, Lewis insists, is not an unrelated benefit tacked on at the end, but its consummation, its fulfillment.  It is in obedience that we discover God’s pleasure, and it is neither selfishness nor a lack of humility to desire our Father’s smile, or to work toward the day when the Master returns and gives us a final and hearty “Well done!” (Matt 25:21, 23).  All other desires pale by contrast.

Maybe we’ve never had anyone show us that kind of delight; it’s hard to imagine God embracing us with the abandon of the father of the prodigal.  But so it is, even if we must pursue glory only by faith in the promise.  Given the unbelievable weight of that glory, there is no other way.