It’s now day 42 since the UK entered ‘lockdown.’ It has been unsettling in all sorts of ways, as our differing abilities to cope with greater isolation, changes to routines, home- working or home-schooling, or just living our everyday lives, have been exposed.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that I feel less visible. For many reasons I am ashamed to say that I don’t like that very much. It reveals my heart which likes the attention of others rather too much. I have a lot to learn.
But I think there is something else going on too. Being ‘visible to others’ is not just about being the centre of attention, it’s also about the simplicity of being witnessed. Through lockdown there are far fewer conversations about what I’m up to day-to-day, and there is a lot less to say if those conversations do happen.
Perhaps that’s not something you have experienced as much as I have. Praise God if so! But if you’ve noticed that you’re missing those chats at work or the school-gate when someone asks you what you got up to at the weekend, or at church each Sunday where someone spontaneously gives you the chance to report on your life, maybe you feel it a bit too.
Why is it hard? I think it has a lot to do with glory. Glory and visibility are closely tied. That’s why we find it difficult when we’re not being noticed. We live for glory.
Now, if you’re a Christian, you read that and probably react in one particular way. ‘Yep, we live for glory. We shouldn’t. That’s the heart of sin.’ So, we expect that to overcome this discomfort we need to turn away from glory.
But that’s not actually quite right is it? Our sinful human heart reach out for self-glory in particular. God’s remedy, though, is not to remove the idea of glory altogether. If anything, it’s to emphasise it, and especially to re-direct it. By God’s grace, we aren’t saved from living for glory per se: we’re saved to live for the glory of another (as we were designed) instead.
Read this verse slowly, and let it roll around your heart:
“Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” (Ps 72:19)
Pick up the Bible and God’s glory is inescapable. It’s fundamental to who he is, and the goal of all he does. He creates, rescues and re-creates for his glory. The goal, the purpose of all creation and all history is the glory of God. It’s why he made everything, and it’s where everything is headed. Which means your intended goal and purpose is the same: the glory of God.
But what is God’s glory? In essence, it’s the sum of all that makes him God. All the features of his character combined in glorious array. God is glorious because he is perfect in love, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, power, holiness, knowledge etc. And he is perfect in all his characteristics because he is glorious.
But, explore the idea more deeply and also becomes clear that God’s glory is ‘God seen.’ Seeing God’s glory means seeing various glorious features which make him God all at once. Think of Moses on the mountain in Exodus 34, hearing of God’s mercy, grace, compassion, and justice. Think of Ezekiel, confronted with an astonishing vision of glory, symbolising power, and strength, and holiness, and justice, and love: There is something indescribable there. Something which human minds cannot quite get around, which human words cannot quite express. “The appearance of the likeness of the glory of God.”
In fact, God’s glory is especially obvious when it is so clear that he’s beyond our understanding. He shines in spectacular brilliance when different features seem hard to hold together. For example, his perfect justice and his perfect mercy come together. It is glorious to see these apparently opposing characteristics held together so beautifully. But it isn’t as though God in his glory were some sort of mix, 50/50 justice and mercy, or something. In glory, God is everything he is at full volume all the time. He is 100% perfect justice and 100% perfect mercy, and 100% love, and holiness, and knowledge, and power, etc, etc…
That is why we can speak of God doing things for his glory. It isn’t that he gets more glory when he creates, or saves sinners etc. It’s that he puts himself on display in these wonderful acts. He makes himself visible. Again, glory has a lot to do with visibility.
And when you think about it, that’s breath-taking. If the purpose and goal of all creation and all history, and even our very existence, is for God’s glory, that means that all creation, all history and all humanity exist to make God visible in some way. That’s why “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). It’s why God makes humanity in his own image (Gen 1:27), putting him on display to the entire cosmos. It’s also why he rescues us from sin through Christ “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).
This is wonderful news during lockdown while we’re feeling less visible. And are separated from all the usual witnesses to our lives. That sort of visibility was never really the point.
Instead, as we trust in Christ, God has a much more wonderful visibility in store. He has made us to be trophies of grace, displaying his glory to cosmic witnesses as well as earthly ones. Wonderfully, even in isolation we have been called to make God visible in our lives.
So, here’s the opportunity for us: as we feel the pinch of lockdown and we roll on into May, are we moving towards God to put him on display? Are we taking time to get to know Jesus more deeply so that we might show him more effectively?
Imagine what a group of his people growing ever more determined to display God’s glory might look like to a city slowly coming out of lockdown. That’s visibility worth praying for!
Onwards, to glory!