Glory and Beauty
Psalm 19 begins by telling is that “The heavens are telling the glory of God.”
Glory is a word we use a lot on our worship. We have a short hymn that we recite or sing numerous times in every worship service:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
But what is “glory” and why do we direct glory to God?
The Old Testament, the first 39 books of our Bible, was written in Hebrew (at least most of it was), the language of the Israelites. And the word they used that we translate as “glory” literally means weightiness or heaviness. So when we talk about God’s glory, do we really mean that God weighs a lot? Well, of course not.
How else do we use that word heavy? We might say that a boxer dealt a heavy punch to his opponent in a boxing match. This means there was a lot of power behind the punch.
We might remark some days that the traffic was very heavy on Route 29. That doesn’t mean that the cars weighed more than they do in light traffic; it means that there were a lot of cars, that the cars were taking up all the space above the road.
If we walk into a greenhouse where they grow orchids, or into a bakery where they are baking bread, we might say that there was a heavy fragrance or aroma. That doesn’t mean that the smell of the flowers or the bread weighed a lot. It means that it was a very strong, maybe an overpowering smell. And heavy breathing doesn’t mean that someone’s breath weighs a lot. It means that it was loud and raspy breathing. Like regular breathing, only more so. Maximum breathing.
Finally, if I said that I had a lot of heavy reading to do, it would probably mean that the books were difficult and complicated, not necessarily that they were fat (although many of them are). Even very thin books can involve very heavy reading.
So in English, the word “heavy” can mean a lot more than just something that is hard to pick up. Heavy suggests the idea of power or strength or seriousness. Heavy things are hard to ignore. They demand or deserve attention from us.
I think this gives us some idea of what glory means when we talk about the glory of God. God deserves our attention; he is more important than anything else. Everything else is as nothing compared to God. He deserves our praise and admiration, our worship and obedience.
Someone once wrote that when truth, goodness, and beauty are combined, we get glory. And when truth, goodness, and beauty are combined at their highest forms, we get the glory of God. When we say, “Glory be to God,” we are recognizing that he deserves our honor and awe.
Some people have described God’s glory as being like a powerful light, not a light that we see with our eyes, but a light we sense in our souls. And a light that excites us with joy, a light that makes us want to remain in its beams forever. We like to watch things that cast light: candles, fireplaces, stained glass windows, stars, fireworks and fireflies.
Now imagine a light that you feel with every part of yourself. That is something like what glory is. So when artists try to portray glory, they often use materials that shine, like gold and silver. When musicians try to portray glory, they use musical instruments and musical arrangements that feel shimmering. And when poets try to portray glory, they use language so that it seems to suggest brightness.
But all of these things we see or hear are just a hint of what God’s glory is really like. And just as beauty is related to love and to truth and goodness, beauty is also a sign or the glory of God. That’s why the Church has almost always tried to make everything in its life beautiful: its buildings and its music, its furnishings and the clothes worn by priests and deacons, the flowers and chalices on the altar. All of these things in their beauty are just a shadow of the glory of God.
We need to keep beauty in our lives to remind us of God’s glory. And we need to understand and respond to God’s glory — to worship and honor him — so that we can take the proper delight in all of the wonderful instances of beauty in God’s Creation.