A number of years ago, I came across something in the Puritan Thomas Goodwin in regard to John 17:22. Goodwin points out that Jesus prays that they (the disciples) might be given the glory of the Father as a means to an end. The end is unity, and the means to that end is glory. Glory is not the highest end, unity is. Glory only gets us there.
In Romans 8:30, we are told that those who have been justified have also been glorified. It is in the past tense. The epistle to the Ephesians is the epistle that is the very most concerned with, and drenched with “glory” and it is also the epistle that is as much as, if not more, concerned with unity in the most direct sense.
The great ancient empires outlined in Daniel all had real degrees of glory and were enormous. Now, the purpose of those empires was to be “the house of the Jews” and the Temple and the glory of the temple was actually the secret center of the world. It was the glory of that temple that secretly made possible the unity of those empires, such as it was. Empires extended the glory of Jerusalem’s temple.
With the smashing of all ancient unity with the “great stone not cut with hands” that smashes the feet of the giant statue, we see a progressive end to all of what Owen Barfield calls “original participation” and a new unity that comes from the secret center of the church. Europe, for all of its foibles, was “Christendom” and had a human unity that was a new foundation.
Later, the United States became a new kind of unity that transcended in spatial dimension, and in peaceableness, anything that Europe achieved. The only possible foundation for that unity was “glory in the church” (Ephesians 3:21). Since the Reformation, the church and the Gospel have been seen as agents of division, and the answer has been the double answer of secular government and either socialized or free market economies, both of which are secular.
Today, we see various forms of socialism, peaking in the United Nations as a quasi-world government agency on the one hand and Straussian advocates of democratic capitalist markets linking the world together, on the assumption that democratic capitalists do not go to war, because it destroys potential markets. I have always been struck by how much emphasis there is in the old Puritans on glory, at how much that themes is scattered through their writings. Glory is almost the bond that holds together the whole of Owen’s various strands of theology. It is everywhere in Edwards.
We have reduced it to some sort of generic Calvinistic “concept” of “doing all to the glory of God”. But that is not how it functions in their works. It functions far more like it does for Paul in Ephesians. It is something to be sought, prayed for, longed for, looked for. It is active prayer for “glory in the church”. It is like Paul beginning Ephesians 3:14 with “now I bow my knees. . . .” My suspicion is that these congregational churchmen (congregational polity being the least “united” of all polities) were the secret source of the great American unity that we saw as an expanse for almost two hundred years, with all of its imperfections and failings. And now, we can recover unity in the world only by a recovery of seeking for “glory.”
Secular pluralism was supposed to deliver us to unity with a common ground, but cannot do it. The deeply divided church is still the source of all real possibility of unity. That is the paradox. I hate all of our futuristic idealism, What we end up doing is something like (really) “in some imaginary far away place, the church will get it together, and will have achieved all that is ideal and then great things will happen.” No, no, no, no. It happens with the real church in real places right now, however unideal.
The great thing about prayer is we hardly have to know anything about what it is we are asking God to do. We only have hints, but that is all we need. It is up to God to know what He is doing, we just begin by asking. We need the glory of God. It is the means to the end. All I know is that every attempt to create unity across people groups, or between the sexes, the generations, between party divisions, between theological divides, or anything else you can imagine often makes things worse. We act out of and into anxiety. Anxiety, like faith, has a capacity to bring to pass what it envisions. Anxiety envisions the worst, and usually gets it. Only the Glory of God can create unity in small and in big ways.
Ephesians 3:13 is a remarkable passage: “Therefore, I ask that you not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” That is, the height of division and of the old source of unity in scapegoating and blame is persecution, which Paul was at that point experiencing from the inside of a Roman prison. But through Christ the sufferings of persecution now become the engine of the new unity as suffering becomes glory for the church. All is transformed.
In the U.S., the problems of unity are particular exposed by the issue of race. New race wars might be even deeper than the old ones of the 60s. Everybody now knows about “reverse racisim,” but nobody knows what to do about it. But we are the bearers of the Glory of God, and only “the Glory” can overcome all of the deep weirdness. Conservative, liberal, socialist, Straussian, none of them can.
I am going to begin to “bow my knee” in asking for God to bestow glory, in my own life and for the life of the world. Join me.
Rev. Richard Bledsoe serves as a hospital chaplain in Boulder, Colorado.