As I have mentioned before, my Grandpa was a gregarious and boisterous coal-miner-turned-Pentecostal-preacher from the Appalachian mountains. There was nothing subtle about him. He would not hesitate to pray for someone in the middle of the grocery store, or any other public space, and he never heard of a prayer that was quiet and soft spoken. And if he started praying you could pretty much bet that he was going to speak in tongues, as well as let out at least one of his trademark high-pitched, Whoops! If you encountered a person in need, no matter the situation, there was really no hope that Grandpa would minister to that person subtly.
When my grandparents retired from ministry they moved from southwest Virginia to Cleveland, Tennessee and became members of the oldest continuous Pentecostal church in the world. It did not take Grandpa long to earn a reputation for being outspoken, excitable, and demonstrative in worship. If he sensed the Holy Spirit during a song or a sermon he would suddenly jump up and yell, “Whoop! Whoop! Whoopie!” while doing a little shuffle of a dance on his partially crippled leg that is hard to describe. While many were not sure what to make of him at first, the clear authenticity of his enthusiasm quickly won over everyone. By the time he passed away in 2006 his antics were much celebrated, not only in his church, but all around town.
However, there was another, deeper stream in the spirituality of my Grandpa for which he was also known, but required a slightly closer observation to see. He was deeply committed to prayer. He believed that everyday he needed to pray through. And so he would rise early in order to pray earnestly, and he would not stop until he had experienced a personal touch from God. Say what you may about contemplation and centering prayer, my Grandpa believed he needed to travail every day, and that philosophy served him well.
If you ever had the privilege of hearing him in his prayer time you would hear tongues and you would hear some Whoops! But you would also hear one other word more than any other: Glory! I have heard from several different people who nearly ran into my Grandpa while they were entering the church early in the morning as he was leaving. They always describe the scene in the same way. He was walking out the door waving the front edge of the jacket on his back as if he were trying to shake off a little bit of dust, shaking his head donned with one of his fedoras, and almost giggling to himself, “Glory!” More than one of the individuals reporting this scene told me they felt the glory of God sprinkle on them as if Grandpa had shaken out a wet coat. Pentecostalism has never been about tongues or demonstrations, though such signs have often accompanied it. Rather, it has always been about the glory of God.
Yet, the glory of God is not limited to Pentecostal spirituality. It is a central theme in Scripture from beginning to end. The glory of the Lord appeared to the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10). The Israelites lost the glory of the Lord when the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:21-22). The glory of God filled the Temple when it was dedicated by Solomon (1 Kings 8:11). The Psalmist wrote that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Isaiah heard the creatures around the throne proclaiming that the whole earth was filled with God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3). The prophet Habakkuk foresaw a day when personal knowledge of the glory of God would cover the earth like water (Hab. 2:14). Jesus spoke about the glory of His reign in Heaven (Matt. 25:31), yet sought not His own glory, but the glory of His Father (John 8:50). Stephen saw the glory of God while he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:55). A central message in the gospel preached by Paul was that we have all come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), yet by His grace we are being transformed into that glory (2 Cor. 3:18). The Scripture ends with a promise of the glory of God coming through His kingdom on earth (Rev. 21:23-26).
That is just a tiny sampling of the hundreds of passages that deal with the issue of the glory of the Lord. Clearly it is an important theme in Scripture, and should be foundational knowledge for all believers. Yet, I must confess that I have had a very limited understanding of the glory of God, and based on my experience in speaking with others I believe that I am far from being alone. What exactly is the glory of God, and what are our roles and responsibilities in relationship to it?
There is a story in the Old Testament where Moses asks to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18). God responds to Him with this:
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Exodus 33:19-20
He goes on to tell Moses that He is going to hide Moses in a cave while He passes by with His hand over the cave. Then as He is walking away He will remove His hand in time for Moses to see His glory from behind as He is passing by (Ex. 33:21-23). Then several verses later we are given an account of the event:
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. Exodus 34:6-8
Simply put, the glory of God is the sum total of his attributes. He is loving. He is just. He is powerful, merciful, kind, and severe. All that we could say about God makes up His glory. It is simply the beauty of His character, who He is.
Yet, there is another aspect to God’s glory, for it is not just a noun. It is also a verb. And that is where we come in. It is our duty to glorify God (e.g. 1 Peter 2:12). What does this mean? Do we add to God’s glory? No. We cannot add to God’s glory. So, it must mean something else. Perhaps a look at the difference between the English words glory and glorify can offer some insight.
The suffix that we add to glory in order to turn it into the verb glorify comes from the Latin word ficare, which means “to verify.” Have you ever heard a preacher talking about God as…say, provider, stop and ask the congregation to raise their hands if they have ever known God to be their provider? In that moment that congregation is verifying that God really is who He says He is. They are witnesses to the truth of what He has revealed about Himself. All of us are called to be verifiers of God’s goodness. It is not that we add to His goodness, but that we are verifying that we have to come to know that He is who He says He is. Our responsibility in glorifying God is to verify His goodness.
So, what is the opposite of verifying God’s goodness? If you think like me your first thought might be that the opposite of verifying God’s goodness is to deny it. However, the opposite of ficare is not denial. Rather, the opposite of ficare is deficare. It is the Latin word from which we get the English word deify. To deify something is to give it god-like status. The most common deification is when we deify ourselves. Instead of verifying the goodness of God we proclaim our own goodness. But deification is not limited to ourselves. We can deify anything, which is why God so jealously deals with the issue of idolatry in the Old Testament. Anytime we choose anything else over God we are saying that that particular thing is better than God, that its goodness is preferable to the goodness of God.
When we verify God He promises to verify us. Jesus stated, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge him before my father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8). The word “acknowledge” is the Greek word homologeo. It is more often translated in the New Testament as “confess,” and literally means “same words.” The idea is that in a public court of law we are expected to give the same account that we actually witnessed. It is not enough to tell people that God is good. We have to have the experience of God’s goodness, and then be faithful witnesses to that goodness.
We try to create a third category that actually does not exist, a kind of agnosticism towards the goodness of God. But there are really only two options. Either you will glorify God (ficare) or you will deify something else (deficare). Which are you doing today?