Oct 3, 2014

"For the Glory of God:" What Does This Mean?

By Diana Yaeger

We learn to speak before we comprehend the full meanings of words. We learn language by repeating back what we have heard; none of us sat down and studied a dictionary as two-years-olds so that we could communicate. And with that comes a type of trial and error with words we have not fully investigated. It is often comical to hear young children use a word incorrectly. But given that these youngsters have just surmised the majority of their vocabulary from merely hearing words in context, it is actually quite impressive how much they have picked up.

We adults do the same: many of us throw around jargon that we do not fully understand. This is not inherently bad, since as stated before, it is part of our learning. Yet it can also cause misunderstandings. Unfortunately, Lutherans often acquire an understanding of churchly language that is alien to our theology. Perhaps we have come from another denomination, or have heard the language used by other Christians; and without much thought, we start to use it, too, without any critical analysis.

The better we understand our vocabulary, the more solid we are in our theology. We are all marinating in a culture that presumes the universality of various doctrines that did not even exist until after the Reformation. If you are a mother, your children will be confronted with this reality as well, especially if they read Christian books written by non-Lutherans. We therefore need to teach the history behind not only our theology, but behind erroneous theology as well. An answer for our faith also includes our rationale for rejection of opposing views. The ability to uncover presuppositions behind language prepares us and our children to truly engage the world.

In addition to merely resisting the poor theology of the age, we can also build deeper appreciation for our own theology. We can revel in the richness of the Christian faith. Everything we correctly learn teaches us more about Jesus. This is truly a privilege, and one we hope to promote among all people, whether we are a daughter, mother, and/or a wife.

There are surely numerous examples of “bad terminology” we could pick on. But one that can be a little insidious is is our use of the term, “the glory of God.”

“Glory” is all over the liturgy, so how can that be so bad? It must be orthodox because it is in the Bible, right? Well, often it is our understanding and use that is incorrect. “Glory” is frequently used in speech as if it were an attribute on its own. If that is the case, try to answer the question, “What is glory?” You are likely to insert other attributes, such as omnipotence, omnipresence, justice, or mercy into your definition. Glory is simply something that is worthy of praise.The word glory can be translated as "praise" in many instances, but when we pair glory with a possessive (such as God's glory) it is something that is worthy of praise; in both cases we must ask, "Exactly what attribute is receiving or is worthy of praise?"

The glory that comes to mind for many of us is the eternal majesty of the Godhead. Now, no one is to deny that God’s eternal, perfect righteousness and power would be something to behold. But nobody sees the holy glory of the face of God and lives (Exodus 33). This is the type of glory that all have sinned and fallen short of (Romans 3). It will kill you. Nor can you do anything to add to that glory. As God says, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50).

Yet we often hear someone say, “Let’s do this for the glory of God.” That is language that we have borrowed from our Calvinist friends. The (Calvinist) Westminster Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Yet, the “enjoy him forever” does not apply to all humanity. In this theology, for His glory, God has predestined some for salvation and some for damnation according to His eternal counsel.

Indeed this is about the central principle of Calvinism, the glory of God. Contrast that with the central principle of Lutheranism, God’s free justification of sinners. There may be no plainer example of the difference in understanding then the question of why we go to church. Many Christians will say that it is to “give back to God.” Lutherans say that we go to Church to receive the forgiveness of sins. The glory God is pleased to reveal is His action in saving sinners; the glory that God wants is that of the cross. Let’s take a look at how “glory” is used in our liturgy.

Part of Liturgy
Content containing "glory" with context
What does this mean?
… For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.
The glory of God is that He has had mercy on you, forgiven and renewed you so that you have been reconciled with God delighting in His will.
Gloria in Excelsis
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on Earth….
Read Luke 2:14, then Luke 19:38. The peace on earth moves to peace in heaven. This glory is about Jesus who made peace with God for us by His death on the cross.
Gloria in Excelsis
… We worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for Your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God Lamb of God: You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us….
We thank God for His salvific act. We praise the glory, which is the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world.
Holy Gospel response
Glory to you, O Lord.
This is a response to the gospel, Jesus saving you. The entire Bible is written to make you wise unto salvation.
… Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest…
These words are of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. With waving of palms the crowds cry, “Hosanna, Lord save us.” See the note under Gloria Excelsis about Jesus’ entry in Luke 19:38
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Glory here refers to that which we have been praying for in the Lord's prayer. The entire prayer is asking for mercy from God, but here are a few highlights:

First Petition: … we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with [the Word of God]. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven…

Second Petition: …God’s kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word…

Third Petition: …He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.

Fifth Petition: …We pray in this petition that our Father in Heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.

Sixth Petition: …we pray that we may finally overcome [the devil, the world, and our sinful nature] and win the victory

Seventh Petition: ….we pray in this petition, in summary, that our Heavenly Father would rescue us from every evil of body and soul…
Nunc Dimittis
…My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
The light and glory refers to the salvation the Lord has prepared. (Jesus!)

At this point you may be thinking, “That is great, and sure, theology is important, but does this have any relevance to issues of daily life?” The answer is, “YES!” This has a lot to do with vocation as well. Our good works cannot add to the majesty of God. We misunderstand ourselves and our God if we believe that somehow our efforts and lives ascend to heaven (“Let’s do this for the glory of God”). Rather we live out our vocations in service to our neighbors. We are not sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives to abstractly “glorify God.” Indeed, we are not reaching up to God in our vocation, but God is reaching down and working through us.

His glory is in His mercy for sinners. Dr. James Bushur, a professor at Concordia Theological seminary, put it this way in a sermon he delivered in August: “For the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, it is this righteousness of the first table that is the basis for their judgment of the people, even their condemnation of Jesus himself. They love to point out where Jesus falls short of the glory of God; He breaks the Sabbath laws by His healing work; He eats with unclean hands and in fellowship with unclean tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.”

Dr. Bushur continues, “Rather, the throne of divine glory is now found in the hungry; it is located among the naked, the sick, and the prisoner; His glory is fixed together with ‘the least of these His brethren.’ For when God became man, He made human flesh—weak, enslaved, dying flesh like our own—to be His throne of Glory.”

God is at work wiping snotty noses, doing the dishes, volunteering at the soup kitchen. Here is God’s glory in how He always directs us to see it: in mercy to sinners. So there is one more addition to the type of glory we talk about in the liturgy: The Fourth Petition. God has not only given us eternal salvation, but also in mercy gives us our daily bread. He provides this daily bread through vocations, “the masks of God.”

So when the words “glory of God” pass your lips, look to where God wishes His glory to be known. God brings our eyes down from the secret counsel of His heavenly, hidden will and to the revealed God: the poor Baby in swaddling clothing; the tired Man with nowhere to lay His head; the beaten, bloody Man on the cross. He is crowned with thorns, and above His glorious throne is written “King of the Jews.” Look to Jesus, the Savior, who provides for all your needs.


Diana Yaeger is married to Aaron, has an infant son named Simon Peter, and is currently a deaconess intern from Concordia Theological Seminary. She believes concise is good when it comes to her personal details.

Title Image: "Cristo crucificado" by Diego Valazquez, 1632

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