Glory fills the pages of the Bible. But like many of the great, rich biblical words, I fear glory is often abstract and lacks immediate connection in our minds and experience. And the images it conjures up—perhaps images of kingly crowns or heroic deeds—don’t seem to help us much in comprehending the significance of what Scripture means by the word. In his famous address, “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis describes the poverty that many of us bring to an understanding of glory, a poverty that makes glory appear strange and confusing:
“There is no getting away from the fact that [glory] is very prominent in the New Testament and in early Christian writings... All this makes no immediate appeal to me at all, and in that respect I fancy I am a typical modern. Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?”
But Lewis goes on to explain that when he put aside his initial confusion, dug deeper into the language of the Scriptures, and allowed Scripture to challenge and expand his thinking, he discovered the reason Scripture resounds with the word glory and with promises that we will have it. He saw that glory is what we were made for (see Isa. 43:7).
I took my own journey into the language of the Bible in search of a deeper understanding and experience of glory. As it did with Lewis, the journey happened to me, but once it did, I found myself embroiled in a treasure hunt, in which a series of intriguing clues led me to one discovery after another. And eventually, I found that glory had begun to unfold in my mind and heart as the word that contained my deepest longings, my highest priorities, and my destiny—as well as the conviction that it contained those things for everyone else on the planet.
As a result of this unfolding, the promise of Habakkuk 2:14 took on an increasing weight and significance: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Interestingly, this verse is often misquoted by the simple omission of the word knowledge. This omission gives rise to a vision of the earth being gradually covered by a sort of vapor that drips down from Heaven and eventually engulfs the planet in bright gold. Wonderful though that vision might be, it can leave us waiting for an appearance of glory that is completely outside of us, distracting us from the powerful invitation in this verse—the invitation to know what glory is, and ultimately, to live in a world where everyone shares that knowledge.
Another reason we cannot afford to leave out knowledge from the promise of Habakkuk is that its omission turns the fullness of God’s glory on the earth into a future event rather than a present reality. When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned, he heard the angels declaring, “The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:3 NKJV) The truth is that God’s glory is not far from us. It is actually the reality that surrounds us. The whole human history of “falling short of the glory of God” has not diminished it in any way. Neither has our failure to perceive it. It is impossible for us to erase God’s glory from the universe.
In light of Isaiah’s vision that the earth is already full of God’s glory, the prophecy of Habakkuk is God’s promise that the gap between the immanent reality of His glory in the universe and our perception of that glory will be closed. The fullness of God’s glory will be matched by the fullness of our knowledge.
The only other verse in Scripture in which we find the phrase “the knowledge of the glory of God” is in 2 Corinthians:
“For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Here we find Paul comparing two creative acts of God. God’s first creative act was to command light out of darkness. Later, He performed a similar creative act, one with equal power, drama, and impact. But this time, He commanded light to shine out of the darkness of our hearts.
What was the source of that darkness? It was a rejection of glory: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21 KJV)
In ignorance and deception, mankind turned from the light of God’s glory, only to discover that there is no other source of light in the universe. That light went off when they turned from glory. But when the light went on again, it was a different expression. God, who had first expressed Himself as Creator, now expressed Himself as the merciful Redeemer. Thus, the “knowledge of His glory in the face of Christ” is different than the knowledge of His glory that Adam and Eve beheld in their innocence. In the face of Christ, we see the eternal value God has for us, evidenced by the price He paid to restore us to the place where we could behold His glory and be restored to the glory we had fallen short of.
The knowledge of the glory of God, the knowledge that Habakkuk prophesied would fill this earth, is revealed in the face of Christ. But according to Paul, the true significance of God shining on our hearts, the true effect and value of the knowledge of the glory of God, is this:
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The knowledge of the glory of God, gained in this relational posture of beholding Christ, makes us like Him. In other words, this intimate knowledge of God does not merely reproduce encounters with Christ; it reproduces His nature and likeness within us.
We were first created and then redeemed in order to be like God. No other part of God’s creation was designated to bear His image; and thus no other part of His creation has the same glory we have. As Bill Johnson regularly points out, “Yes, God does say that He won’t share His glory with another. But we’re not another.” We are made in His image—glorious! We are His body, His Bride, and His children. We are not usurpers or pretenders; we are image bearers. The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ reveals our own glory—the glory He made us to share with Him from the beginning. And if we were made for glory, then there is one question that must possess us: What on earth is glory?
- Paul Manwaring, author of What on Earth is Glory?