Sunday, March 7, 2010

Glory Rising

I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57.4-5)

The Age of Extremities

America’s healthcare war turned one last week and we’re no closer to a satisfying resolution now than a year ago. We have no idea how many have died or continue to suffer because of ideological strife. Yet the longer this battle persists, the more I’m convinced something precious is slowly dying in all of us. Faith in our leaders and political process has reached a new low. Everyone agrees something urgently needs doing, but no one cares enough to yield personal preferences for the common good. Both sides have taken an all-or-nothing position, neither realizing this strategy usually leads to nothing. Our impasse would be alarming if it were unique to the healthcare debate. Sadly, it’s not. What we’re witnessing is nothing more than a reflection of the culture-at-large. We’ve become a love/hate, thumbs-up/thumbs-down people stranded on opposite sides of a chasm created by collapsed middle ground.

We live in the Age of Extremities. We’ve exchanged pursuit of the common good for false certainty in manmade truths. It’s not as simple as everyone plying his/her individual interests at the expense of others. Using the healthcare crisis as a prime example, what we’re seeing are people stubbornly defending their chosen extreme at their own expense. Those in favor of healthcare reform defend their leaders despite how shamelessly they’ve reduced the likelihood of success with compromising interests. Those opposing reform hold the party line, even though many of them stand to benefit personally from it. Almost daily, we turn on the news channels to find we’re in the same situation David describes in Psalm 57.4: “I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” And being there, we’re wise to follow his example by praying, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (v5)

What’s God Got to Do With It?

Many look at that last sentence and laugh, asking, “What’s God got to do with it?” Their question has merits, because compassion and mercy aren’t compatible with extreme living. When they’re not visibly present, it’s hard to conceive God is invisibly present. Yet because we’re there, He most assuredly is there too. That gives us every reason to believe He will be exalted and His glory will appear. What we currently see is no indication of what will ultimately be. Isaiah 60.2-3 reads: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”

Virtually every conflict that concerns us, collectively and individually, concerns God. The “big issues”—healthcare access, civil rights, marriage equality, faith equity, etc.—that divide us as a people are troubling to Him simply because they exemplify our disdain for compassion and mercy. But I would venture conflicts that polarize relationships, families, and communities also trouble Him on an equal scale. That’s because what we’re experiencing socially is nothing more than what we’ve grown to tolerate personally. Thus, it stands to reason that improvements in social justice arrive in the wake of improvements in personal justice. Before we can expect God’s glory to be above the earth, we must allow Him to rise upon us so His glory will appear over us.

Beyond Praise

This “glory” business can be a little confusing, having acquired several shades of meaning over time. In modern vernacular, we associate glory with praise. We’ve also turned it into a verb, i.e., “to exult,” as in “I glory in success.” Both usages are tied to achievement on some level. We give God glory for the things He does. We glory in accomplishments. But the ancients reserved “glory” for the transcendent. Glory went beyond praise. It acknowledged the eminence—the insuperable majesty—and immanence—the pervasive presence—of the divine. To experience God’s glory, which the ancients called “seeing,” they humbled themselves by lifting Him above all else and embraced His involvement in everything. Notice the formula: “Be exalted, O God” and “the LORD rises” first, then “let Your glory be over all the earth” and “His glory appears over you.”

If we want to see God’s glory, we first humble ourselves to exalt Him above everything else. With His glory rising in us, His presence is known in all of our circumstances. His glory changes how we perceive things as well as how we’re perceived. James 4.10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” When we give way to God’s majesty and presence—when we exalt Him—He raises us. The lions and ravenous beasts that bare their teeth and snarl become harmless, no more than tiny silhouettes against the vista of God’s glory. People who sought to intimidate and destroy us come to our light and the brightness of our dawn. We no longer feel it necessary to take sides and defend our beliefs. God’s glory raises us above our conflicts. Our first priority is exalting Him, not proving we’re right. And as more of us learn to do this more often, His glory becomes more powerfully revealed and palpably present. So, what’s God got to do with our social and personal turmoil? Everything.

Seeing God’s glory requires humility to acknowledge His majesty and presence in our lives. When we do this, He lifts us up.

Postscript: He Is Exalted

We rejoice in God’s glory as it rises and appears above us. “He is Exalted” by Twila Paris.

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