In Isaiah 6:1-8 there seems to be a four-fold progression. First Isaiah is shown the glory of God (verses 1-4). This makes him aware of his own finiteness and sinfulness and he experiences a fear of the Lord (verse 5). But then he is given cleansing from sin (verse 7). Finally he is sent out to witness for God.
The Lord didn’t begin by sending Isaiah out, but by first showing him His glory. I am going to suggest that there is a principle here, and that one of the ways we can be effective witnesses for the Lord is by first having an experience of God’s glory.
Now that probably sounds rather daunting. I used to think that you had to be really ‘spiritual’ to experience God’s glory, and that most normal people would have to wait until they got to heaven to taste it.
However, when we look and see what the Bible says about God’s glory – and this is also consistent with Hopkins’ poem – we find that it is accessible to us all because it exists all around us. Psalm 19 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork…” Even in the passage that we just looked, although Isaiah is given a special vision of God’s throne room, the Seraphim who are worshiping the Lord talk about God’s glory on the earth. They cry out that “The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Paul takes up a similar theme in Romans 1, arguing that God’s invisible attributes – which no doubt includes His glory – “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom. 1:20).
Paul goes on to condemn those who ‘changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.’ (1:23) Idol worship is simply taking the glory that is properly due to God and transfering it to a created object. This is the mistake that paganism made. Pagans had an instictive sense that the sun not only radiated heat but also radiated glory, yet because they had no knowledge of the true God, they worshiped the sun rather than its Maker. Pagans had an instinctive sense that there was something glorious about the harvest cycle, yet because they had no knowledge of God, they worshiped the harvest as being the source of that glory.
As bad as that was, our culture has managed to go one step further. We have got rid of glory altogether. And with it has gone the fear of the Lord.
People in the Western world are not generally tempted to worship the sun because they do not see the sun as glorious. The sun is merely a ball of gas.
People in our culture are not tempted to worship the harvest, because there is no sense of wonder at its continual reoccurance.
We live in a world in which God’s glory has been flattened out. The result is that we are not tempted to such obvious forms of idolatry as our pagan anscestors. Yet we – and I’m using the pronoun ‘we’ generically to refer to our culture at large - have also become de-sensetised to the glory of God that fills the earth.
God’s glory is all around us, but we have to have eyes to see it. We should learn to feel about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has a dollar in his pocket. Living in a world of so much glory is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege (See Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, ch. 4).
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