Glory is defined as that which elicits respect and praise. Glory and glorification are a common theme in the Bible. An awe inspiring deity is certainly an essential part of western religious thought.
The whole idea of religion is a search for life meaning and a reality which extends beyond this transient physical one. That search almost inevitably leads to the concept of a higher intelligence and a higher power, i.e. a God or gods.
In the human realm superior intelligence and power have always elevated the few above the rest. The few have then often demanded respect, deference, and even compliance based on their superiority. Therefore human experience preconditions us to view our God or gods as demanding of our worship and obedience. The divine and our relationship to it thus tends to mirror our human relationships with a great emphasis on a hierarchy of worthiness and respect.
As typically understood and taught, God’s glory can and must be enhanced by humans through their worship and absolute obedience. In fact, our efforts at the further glorification of God is a divine requirement. Many denominations then define strict rules of proper worship which further delineate the glorification process.
When we recognize truly awe inspiring behaviors, it is natural to acknowledge that behavior. But at the root of this recognition is the question of what inspires the awe. People can be inspired by very different things. Some are inspired by ruthlessness, seeing power and its exercise as the most important characteristic worthy of honoring. Others, likely, are respectful of behaviors which benefit others without the hint of self promotion. In fact, the acts most likely to draw respect are those involving self sacrifice. This is why those who risk their lives for others are so honored.
So I ask myself this question- Does respect which is demanded enhance or diminish the glory of God? Is God bigger and better for requiring that we acknowledge his awesomeness, or is He, in fact, diminished because of this egocentric idea that He needs and requires acts of deference and subservience? Does God actually rise in our own eyes because of this theological concept of demanded glorification?
Returning to the human realm analogy again, I reiterate that for a great number of people the arrogance of a human demanding worship is distasteful in the extreme. When we then turn to the spiritual realm, our theology turns that distaste on its head. Our God is said to be so much greater than a human being that He can and even should operate arbitrarily, capriciously, and with total disregard to the standards which generate awe and respect in our human relationships. By implication God’s glory is totally tied to His ability to do as He pleases without regard to the damage done to others. Therefore, His glory is actually increased by our unreserved acceptance of His right to demand anything at all. This is the essence of the Christian theology of glory.
I truly believe that we need a new picture of God’s glory and how we should react to it. For me, God’s glory cannot derive from His power and knowledge separate from His character. The creation is hard evidence of God’s knowledge and power. But that evidence does not reveal His character and divine purpose. For that evidence we look to His actions and what they tell us about Him.
In that regard, the church theology attempts to combine too supposed routes to glorification in their depiction of God. God both demands our attention and worship and simultaneously earns our unsolicited admiration and respect by sacrificing Himself on our behalf. In this way have a theological confirmation of both ways that glory can accrue to God. One way is a way we would often soundly reject in human relationships, but are forced to accept in our divine relationship. The other is universally viewed as extraordinarily praiseworthy.
As long as worshippers, song writers, and praise leaders in the church can focus exclusively on Jesus as the self sacrificial source of God’s due respect and glory, we deal with no contradiction. But when the church insists on the exercise of arbitrary power and demanded worship in their view of God, His glory is not enhanced. We cannot honor in God what we reject in ourselves.
Our traditional picture of God is too human like, too ego driven. The ego is that part of us humans that drives our high regard for self preservation and self interest. Any attachment to such concerns by God can only diminish His glory. The existence of an all powerful Being cannot be threatened. Such a Being can have a divine plan which can be construed as stemming from self interest, that which pleases God. However, if that plan is not ultimately benevolent and devoid of any sense of injustice, then how can that plan be a source of pleasure to God or a cause of admiration in humanity?
Given God’s capabilities, the only conceivable source of awe in Him must be the recognition that despite all that he could do, being unrestrained by higher authority, what He ultimately has done is too operate with complete grace and humility. In an act of supreme self sacrifice, God demonstrated an unadulterated character which in every respect earns but does not demand our worship.
In perfect graciousness God’s glory is revealed in a way which requires no amplification by us. In fact, the only way we could truly acknowledge that glory would be to emulate Him in our own graciousness, which is exactly what Jesus taught.