Monday, January 12, 2009

The Weight of Glory

I really enjoyed this essay. It was very thought provoking and addressed a topic that is often avoided: glory. There are several awesome quotes in this essay which have been quoted in Plantinga. I mentioned this quote in a previous entry:

1. "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Then there are some other good ones:

2. "I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts
so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both."

3. "The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another.... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."

Apparently "The Weight of Glory" was a sermon preached at a church, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, in 1942. People conceive of Heaven in different ways. One is addressed in the beginning of quote #1. The physicality of the body is a much neglected idea in Christianity. Too often the age-old Gnosticism comes up in which we reject the physical and embrace only the spiritual. In reality, we are physical AND spiritual beings. The point of the Christian life is not to spend 23 hours a day reading the Bible and then we die and go to a magical land far away. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom HERE to Earth, and it is biblically clear that we're going to have new bodies in Heaven. Lewis wrote that everlasting life is "the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward." Basically, he is saying here that we were made for Heaven, but we can't really understand it right now. I believe Lewis is right on here. We were created for something more, and we know it deep inside, but the world attempts to stifle it. As Lewis writes, "Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice," leading us to falsely think that "the good of man is to be found on this earth."

He grouped the promises of Scripture into 5 "heads:"
1. We will be with Christ
2. We will be like Him
3. We will have glory
4. We will be fed, feasted, or entertained
5. We'll have some sort of official position in the universe-- ruling cities, judging angels, being pillar of God's temples

The word "glory" has many different connotations. Lewis described his two reactions to glory: it means fame or luminosity to him. So if we will someday have glory in Heaven, does that mean we will be famous? That inference presumes vain satisfaction that God will "appreciate" what we've done based on its own merit, when in reality, we enter the Kingdom of God as a child. Our works and our glory and me, me, me is totally wrong from a Heavenly perspective. It is about GOD, not us. As Lewis put it, "How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us." We can't understand what this glory will be like, and maybe we're not meant to.

Keats described glory as "the journey homeward to habitual self." Lewis brought up examples of beauty, like music, art, or whatever and said that there is something within us that feels something more, but, that we have an "indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers." Eventually, in our future state of glory, Lewis believed that, "The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."

Lewis also conceived the word "glory" as to mean "brightness." I found this very interesting, "At the present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leave of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in." At the end of time, I agree with Lewis' assertion that we will "eat from the tree of life" and drink from the "fountain of joy."

Heaven is interesting to discuss, but we can't understand a whole lot of it and it's way in the future and cryptic for a reason. Right now we should be living for today during the time God has given to us. Thus, I liked Lewis' conclusion that wrapped up the question, "What does our future glory have anything to do with how we should be today?" Lewis correctly said that "following Him (God/Jesus) is, of course, the essential point." This is the point at which Lewis wrote quote #3. It is true that "there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." As we discussed in class the other day, we are all princes and princesses of the King. Do I treat my neighbors as prince and princesses? That would be a definite no. Lewis wrote that we should have "no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption" over others. We should also have "real and costly love" for people rather than "mere tolerence or indulgence which parodies love." The essay ends with, "If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat-- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."

Overall I found the essay lovely and moving, especially the last part. As for my last posting rampage craziness, I was thinking about what kind of a confused Christian I am. I grew up Episcopalian, with Jewish relatives, started going to an evangelical church in college, worked at a Presbyterian church, went to St. Mary's Catholic Church for youth group and sometimes to services, then I spent the summer in the Holy Lands doing Anglican devotions, plus I've read books and listened to podcasts of Christians all across the spectrum, and then this last semester I went to Mars Hill. Now I'm starting to go to Crossroads Bible Church. So basically, I am very confused. And inconsistent. I can see every side of theological issues, but most of the time I have no idea what side I'm on. I seriously need to commit to a church and be consistent about it (it's hard when you're in college and keep moving around....). My reason for saying this is:

1. Some of my theology may come across at evangelical, some of it may seem emerging-church influenced, etc. I'm all over the board. Hopefully I'll get myself straightened out sometime.
2. What I've heard about Heaven has clashed-- different people/ churches have told me different things. Growing up I really never heard anything about Heaven. In my church at UM, Heaven was really important. In fact, doing beach evangelism with this church, the big question was, "If you were to die tonight, how sure are you you'd go to Heaven?" It seemed sometime that the "Jesus prayer" was like a "golden ticket" to Heaven and we needed to give as many people the "golden ticket" as we could. Mars Hill was the total opposite. The emphasis was on here and now bringing the Kingdom to Earth, and we'll deal with Heaven when it comes. Paul talks about having an "eternal perspective" and that we should be first and foremost "citizens of Heaven." I guess this doesn't have that much to do with "The Weight of Glory," but it's still something that confuses me. It all relates to an issue with which I've struggled for a few years now, "How then shall we live? What should the Christian life be about?" Is it about sending people to Heaven or is about bringing Heaven to Earth? Or both? And if so, what is the ratio? It's not just me; I think Christians are really confused about this or at least inconsistent. I could go on and on about this, but I'll probably just confuse myself more, so back to "The Weight of Glory."

I swear, the above processing does have at least a little to do with this essay. I LOVED what C.S. Lewis had to say, but a lot of the "future glory" material is constrained by our finite human knowledge. Thus, should we even devote time and energy to describing what we can't describe? As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, eternity has been planted in our hearts, and should we stop there? The church I've been going to might say that Christians wrongly hope for Heaven and think about that a lot, but they don't realize that Heaven is coming here, starting right now (theologically based on Jesus' kingdom parables). Thus, the attitude of "I'll fly away oh glory, I'll fly away" is totally off base. I think my big problem is that I have part emerging church, part evangelical, non-denominational theology (having gone to both types of churches in the last year). I guess right now I'm living in that tension of not really knowing what to think about Heaven.

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