The glory of grace

Illustration by fotographic1980. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Illustration by fotographic1980. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

What does the glory of God look like? What do we think of?

My mind quickly goes to Isaiah trembling in the temple, feeling undone by his own sinfulness in the presence of a powerful and holy God. Or Moses, asking to see God’s glory, and being reminded that no one can see the face of God and live.

Frightening.

But there’s more to it than that.

Recently, I was reading John Ortberg’s Love Beyond Reason, a series of twelve thought- provoking and frequently funny meditations on the inexplicable love of God. He begins the book with a story about Pandy, his sister’s beloved rag doll, making a point that he carries through the rest of the book: “We are all of us rag dolls. Flawed and wounded, broken and bent. …But we are God’s rag dolls. He knows all about our raggedness, and he loves us anyhow. Our raggedness is no longer the most important thing about us.”

By the end of the book, however, we are left to ponder not only the love of God in the face of our raggedness, but the love of God expressed through God’s own raggedness. This, he insists, is glory: “For the glory of God is the raggedness of God. The most glorious aspect of his being is that he would take our raggedness upon himself before he would give us up.”

True, to behold the holiness of God face-to-face is a dangerous proposition. But as Ortberg reminds us, here is God’s actual response to Moses’ bold request:

I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exod 33:19, NRSV)

Moses asks to see God’s glory; God says, “Okay, I’ll show you my goodness.” Moreover, he links his goodness to his grace and mercy.

I’m reminded of these words from the beginning of John’s gospel:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NRSV)

God’s eternal Word “tented” among us, John says, evoking the imagery of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites, when the glory of God would descend upon a mere tent. As they traveled, the people were used to seeing a pillar of cloud or fire go before them; when they pitched their tents for the night, the divine glory would also settle in, visible from anywhere in the camp.

But now, John says, we can say that we’ve seen God’s glory in the flesh, in a bodily form that walked among us and died for us on a cross. The glory of God is all about grace.

Ortberg suggests that our earthly ideas of glory are about status and self-aggrandizement. But God’s glory is not a simply a matter of power: it’s about goodness, embodied in grace toward the ragged creatures he loves, grace which must necessarily take the form of raggedness itself.

We have seen his glory. And we are ourselves are being made into that image (2 Cor 3:18). Let us humbly reflect the glory of God by learning to be people of grace.