In the New Testament, hope is often “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). David Steindl-Rast (Gratefulness) argues that this hope links together our personal encounter with the risen Christ with the “power to transform even the social structures of our time.”
Scripture fuses two conceptions of glory. In Hebrew, kabod (glory) means weight. In Greek, the equivalent word is doxa, which means “appearance.” That fusion is new. For Greeks, appearances cannot be weighty, not ultimately. For Hebrews, kabod is hidden, screened by the veil.
But in the incarnation, the weight of God makes an appearance. The Word becomes flesh and “we see His glory.”
Glory is weighty because it’s the visibility of God’s personal presence. Glory is also associated with beauty. As Steindl-Rast puts it, “God’s glory in light, fire, cloud, rainbow, starry sky, conveys a sense of surprising beauty” (151). God’s glory is a “fascinating aura of awe” (151).
God’s beauty is evident not only in “shattering” moments of titanic glory, but also in small, quotidian moments of loveliness: “the gracefulness of a fawn . . . slender, dark against the freshly fallen snow, motionless” (152). Every raindrop and leaf and blade of grass shouts “Glory.”
Such a vision of reality might seem quietist, but Steindl-Rast insists that “this vision of divine glory leads to action.” He makes his case by pointing to the way “glory” works as “the key term for an understanding of Christian apostleship,” especially in 2 Corinthians 3-5.
The good news is the gospel of the glory of Christ, likeness of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Proclaiming this good news, Paul is a minister of reconciliation, with a “ministry of justice abounding in glory” (3:9).
Paul – along with all apostles, even all believers (2 Corinthians 3:18) – is qualified for this ministry because the God who spoke light out of darkness shines again in the face of Jesus, so that we may see His glory and be transformed into the image of that glory (4:4, 6).
Steindl-Rast calls attention to the Genesis 1 language of 2 Corinthians 4:4: Christ is the image of God, the one in whose likeness we are created. Face-to-face with Jesus we are re-made to be what we were created to be. His glory is mirrored in us because in our very created being we are made to mirror.
For Paul, though, the transformation isn’t limited to the individual believer. Rather, “the pattern for the transformation of macrocosm and microcosm is one and the same. Christ is also the primordial pattern for the whole universe, which is destined to mirror divine beauty in nature and in history” (153, citing Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:3).
As we are transformed from glory to glory, there is “an ever more splendid realization of God’s will ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’” And this same process is going on for the entire cosmos, which will mirror the glory of Christ (154).
“Beauty transforms the beholder.” And beauty inspires the beholder to transform the world into a mirror of the beauty he beholds. The hope of the crusaders “inspired the cathedrals and still shines from every arch, sill, and coping stone.” We contemplate the rose window of Chartres, and “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (154, citing Romans 5:2).
Jesus is the glory of the Father. Jesus is the pattern of glory in whose image we are being created. Jesus is the pattern of glory in whose image the world is being created. And it is only by seeking His face of glory – in prayer, in His Word, in song, at His table, among His people – that we participate in the renewal and glorification of the world.
Pursue justice without beauty, and you'll miss both. Detach “world transformation” from the face of Jesus, and you’ll leave ruins in your wake.
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