Grasping God’s glory

Tales From the Unending Story

September 14, 2022 | Opinion | Volume 26 Issue 19
Joshua Penfold | Columnist
(Photo by Cullan Smith/Unsplash)

Sometimes I wish God would indisputably appear in some fantastically obvious way, eliminating my wrestling, struggling and doubt.

Something like what happens in II Chronicles 7: “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord.”

How could someone witness fire from heaven and the glory of the Lord, so tangibly present that the priests couldn’t enter, and not fall down and worship? It’s among a host of fantastic displays of God’s glory in the Bible. But even things like the plagues in Egypt or manna from heaven have been explained away by some as natural, albeit peculiar or infrequent, phenomena. The list of miracles with proposed natural explanations are numerous, but reading of fire from heaven and the glory of the Lord enveloping the temple gives me this pang of longing, wishing that my eyes could witness something so tangible and irrefutable.

But I wonder about the way my mind imagines this description. Fire from heaven, could that be lightning? Even if it was, the timing and location could hardly be coincidence.

What about the glory of the Lord? I imagine some bright ethereal light of substance that cannot be penetrated or looked directly upon. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies. I realize I really don’t have a great understanding of the glory of the Lord. We talk and sing about it, and we have our own mental images of it, but what actually is it?

My fantastic little Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines it as “the unapproachable and mighty manifestation of the immediate presence of God. The biblical concept of glory carries with it connotations of inexpressible beauty and majesty.”

I still can’t really imagine what that looks like, but I suppose that’s fitting when trying to describe or understand God, since a finite being can’t use limited vocabulary to describe the glory of an infinite God. Although, I imagine that when you witness it, you’ll know.

And maybe I do know. Maybe I have witnessed the glory of God, God’s holiness, beauty and majesty, on display, and it has left me unsuccessfully grasping for words to help others understand even just a taste of what I’ve experienced, felt and known in the core of my being. These moments of glory are what poets, theologians, artists and musicians are often trying to express, and sometimes our hearts can, in some small way, relate, even if we can’t understand or express our familiarity.

But sometimes I still long for that big, obvious moment of glory when all who are present irrefutably bear witness to God’s glory. Or maybe I shouldn’t be so keen, for just as Israel’s experience of God’s glory was magnificent, so was God’s promise if they disobeyed: being uprooted from the land, rejecting the Temple, disaster to the people.

Maybe I’m okay with the whispers of God’s glory; maybe I need a healthier holy fear of God’s glory. I’m once again so thankful for Jesus, who was the glory of God manifest to us. Hebrews 1:3 says: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Although I will ever struggle to understand the fully-God, fully-man of Jesus, it is still easier to look to Jesus as the manifestation of glory than to imagine the abstract and somewhat terrifying glory of God as a consuming fire and unapproachable presence.

Joshua Penfold ( is bemused by the bewildering, bizarre, yet beautiful Bible.

Read more Tales from the Unending Story:
A trickle of trust
Solomon’s splendour
An honest-to-God typo
Becoming the enemy you hate
A blip in the family tree

(Photo by Cullan Smith/Unsplash)

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Study Jesus in the New Testament and you will see the glory of God.

"In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." Hebrews 1:1-3

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