We beheld His Glory the glory as of the Only Son of the Father.
I John 1: 1
We were witnesses to His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved son.’
II Peter 1:17
The Feast of the Transfiguration commemorates the day when Jesus took Peter James, and John to the mountain top, where he appeared in glory with Elijah and Moses, when the voice from heaven named Jesus God’s beloved son (Matthew 17:1–8). So powerful was this event that when the Apostle Peter thought of proof of the Lord’s divinity, it was not Christ resurrected that he remembered but Jesus’ appearance on the mountain (I Peter 1:16–17). The glory of God was present when the blind man was healed; he was afflicted not because of sin but so that the glory of God might be revealed (John 9). Where God is there is glory. Glory is not ephemeral but real; Paul writes that Christians will bear “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (II Corinthians 4:17). It is glory that we will share and in which we will live when Christ returns. Glory is the characteristic of the existence of Christ in His kingdom, which is shared by all those who love Him and who live in Him.
Glory is the teleology, the end, the fulfillment of creation, the end toward which creation and redeemed humankind are moving. In one of Paul’s most moving and fruitful passages, he describes a world we know, subjected to sin not of its own choosing but by God who, after the great rebellion and because of it, subjected nature and human nature in the hope that these will be redeemed in glory. Glory is the name of the perfection we glimpse beyond the object and events of life, the perfection dimly apprehended that makes the imperfection of existence present even as it inspires hope of something better. Glory is the realm of the good, beautiful and true dimly perceived by philosophers, by Plato, Plotinus, and Berkeley, often by poets, proclaimed by revelation as the true, supernatural cosmos for which the revealed name is glory, a realm of which the true center is Jesus, and the ultimate purpose of which is not simply to serve as the home of ideas but the reality of which is a divine-human person, who is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation,” in whom “all things were created.” “He is the first-born from the dead . . . In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19–20).
The clues to the existence of the realm of glory are all around those in whom wonder has not been subsumed into an obviousness that blinds the eye of the heart. As Saint Paul wrote: the knowledge of God, of His divinity, is evident in creation (Romans 1:19–20). Where there is beauty there is glory. It is not the sound of the Bach Mass; it is what you hear beyond the sound of the Bach Mass, what you see beyond the beauty of Raphael and Van Gogh. It surrounds a bride on her wedding day . It is the solid something that inhabits love. Glory is the perfection of order. It is a sign of the presence of the holy. Glory is the reward of fidelity, “if only we will fix our eyes on what is unseen, not on what we can see. What we can see lasts for a moment. What is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17).
Glory has an antonym, for which it is difficult to find a single word: the disordered, ordinary, the ignoble, the flat and undistinguished, the low and debased. The best New Testament word is translated “corruption” or “decay.” The promise of God’s will for the salvation of both nature and his elect is the overcoming of decay: “for creation itself will be set free from the bondage,” the slavery, from the decay to which all things crested are subjected since the rebellion in Eden (Romans 8:21). Corruption or decay is the inevitable companion of time. Peter describes it as “the corruption that is in the world because of passion,” by the escaping of which we may share in the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). Passion: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, pride of life (I John 2:16), which corrupt whatever they touch. Of this threat to the soul nature provides the effective analogy. Now the roof, which was repaired just short years ago, must be repaired again. Now I must do my exercises because my body is decaying before my very eyes. There is the cosmic reality: sin leads to decay or corruption which leads to death. Righteousness, the acceptance of grace, leads to holiness, to participation in Christ, which leads to glory, with its ordered permanence and beauty.
It is the anticipation of glory that shines in the life of every saint. Every life, says Paul, is like a seed falling into the ground, given to God, ready to bear the fruit of glory. “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. . . . We have borne the image of the man of dust, of Adam, “ we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (I Corinthians 15:42–50).
Among other realities, this truth, that glory is the reality and the end, casts into vivid relief the terms and conditions of human existence. One consequence of sin is the distortion of the created order, the existence of ‘natural’ evil—no evil is natural in God’s eternal plan—from tornados to plagues. Another is the persistence of sin that so easily colonizes the human will so that while sin can be resisted it cannot be overcome, driven out of creation utterly and completely, until Christ returns; indeed it is the revealed pattern that the world untouched by grace grows worse. This makes the anticipation of glory as it exists in the lives of saints, in order, in beauty, precious and worth defending, indeed celebrating. This is why the good things of this life, beginning with the care of our own souls, deserve our loyalty. This is why civilization, always impermanent, and fragile, never a good in itself, ladened as it is with intimations of the life to come, deserves our loyalty. But while the damage sin may do to the temporal order is severe, the damage sin inflicts upon the soul by denying it the fruition in glory that is its supernatural end is far worse. The end of disorder and decay that belong to this world may end in nothing, in the bleeding away of the very forms of reality, but the destruction of the form of souls destined for the glory and created for eternal life of holiness in God’s presence is an eternal sorrow.
The Christian account of creation and Its destiny shines over the hopelessness of this present age. While on one hand it is the task of the apostolic mission to teach the death-giving power of sin and the inevitability of God’s judgment upon it, it is more important to awaken in souls the hope of glory, the awareness that goodness and beauty and truth, wherever we find these in the world, point beyond themselves to the glory that is coming. For glory is the promise: called, justified, glorified (Romans 8:30). The early Church, as soon as it possessed spaces that focused worship with apses presenting images, offered worshippers the vision not of Christ crucified—this would come later—but of the glory that is about to break in, of the paradisial world to which Christ will return making all things new (Revelation 20).