Everything reflects the glory of God at some level. Everything bears the image of God. A trace of the divine is present in the world, including nature and human civilization.
Yet, everything is also moving toward completion of what God intended. This means the fullness of creation, and the fullness of human life, lies ahead of us. We cannot look backward to some perfect time humanity fell from or an ideal to recover. We look forward to the new world toward which God leads us. It may well be that, as Leslie Weatherhead said in This is the Victory (1941, p. 40), the hope of the world is that God develops the plot of the human story, in which each person can play a part that could make this world happier while at the same time points to a further plan on another stage. In terms of the Christian understanding of this story, God has entered human life, come on our stage, worn our make-up, in order to show us what human life could be. God offers to enter into our lives right now.
God has seen some value in this process. God has made creation in such a way that it does not have its completion in the past or present, but in a future or destiny of which we can only gain hints and clues today. We are not sure of the end. Faith, hope, and love move us toward that end. The patience of God to work with independent creation and independent human beings to move toward an end that God desires demonstrates the importance of each individual in the web of relationships to move the universe toward that end. God honors each individual and the choices he or she makes. Among the many tragedies of human history is that human beings have not honored individuals as much as God has done.
The glory of God consists in the dignity and right of God to make it apparent to humanity who God is. When we recognize this glory, God has intruded in our lives in a way that we cannot overlook or forget God. We discover that we cannot possibly avoid God. The glory of God is the beauty of God. Beauty forces us to look away from self, away from other created things and toward God. The beauty of God is how God enlightens, convinces, and persuades us. The beauty of God is the shape and form the revelation of God takes. Christians see this beauty in the attributes of God, in the relationships within the Trinity, and in the Incarnation. The beauty of God is the force and power of God that attracts, wins, and conquers us. God is pleasant, desirable, and full of enjoyment, and creates these qualities in us. When we say that God is glorious and beautiful, we do so because God is love and shows love. The glory and beauty of God attracts us toward God in a way that calls us to love God fully. Glorifying and honoring God can only mean following God. To give honor to God means that in our lives, our words and actions, God makes us conform to the image of the Son of God. With the glory and beauty of God, Christians face the question of how they can help people love what is truly lovely.
Christians have come to see in
Jesus Christ the glory of God.
Human beings do not have to guess what God is like. We look to Jesus, whom Christians view as the Son, the Logos,
and the Wisdom of God. Paul and John make this Christian understanding of Jesus clear.
Colossians 1:15-20 (NRSV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No
one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's
heart, who has made him known.
Although the church did not officially develop its teaching on the Trinity until after the New Testament, the core of that teaching is here. For Christians, an essential or ontological difference does not exist between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The New Testament struggles to express a new vision of who God is. God never existed in isolation. God never had the experience of loneliness. The oneness and unity of God consists in the fellowship of the Trinity. The Father created through the Son and gives life through the Spirit. This granting of independent existence and life is an invitation on the part of God for others to join in this divine fellowship. This divine fellowship honors the difference between Father, Son, and Spirit, while also honoring their divine unity. In the same way, human community recognizes the bond that unites human beings with each other and with the rest of creation, while at the same time honors the individuality of creation and of each human being.
Irenaeus (second century AD), in Against Heresies, Book IV.20.7, had a memorable way of expressing this truth. God revealed the glory of God throughout history and various ways, respecting the culture and history of humanity at the same time. If God did not show this love and care, humanity could not have lived. He then offers this memorable saying.
For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of humanity consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God that is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father that comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.
This suggests that bringing glory and honor to God involves a human life lived fully, abundantly, and meaningfully. Living one's life toward the best human life we can lead is what brings honor and glory to God.
I now want to become a bit more specific. How can I lead a life that participates in eudaimonia or human flourishing? The question suggests that a life of fullness is preferable to an empty one. It suggests flourishing is preferable to deteriorating. It suggests that what we do now contributes to an end that we think will bring a sense of a life well lived.
First, discovering the center of our lives outside us and in God brings us closer to a full life. This form of life, called worship, involves finding enjoyment beyond self and others and finding it in God. It involves loving God fully. It involves investing our lives in the intention God has for us.
Second, as social beings, fellowship with other Christians brings us closer to a full life. Human beings need a sense of belonging. We need to learn how to love others, and a good place to do that is the church. Frankly, Christians can be difficult to love. The church is a good place to test our ability to love difficult people. We also learn to work with a community of persons, some with whom we disagree.
Third, as people who wonder in what the good life consists, becoming increasingly like
Christ brings us closer to a full life. We learn how to
think, feel, and act throughout life. To learn to do so in a way that reflects
what God is doing in the world, we need to give ourselves time to become like Christ. This does not automatically occur. God demonstrated
patience with creation by allowing it develop through 15-20 billion years of
evolution. In the same way, the grace of God starts forming us at birth and
carries us through to the end of the journey.
Fourth, as people who need a mission in life, sharing the gift that we are with others brings us closer to a full life. The unique set of talents, gifts, skills, and abilities that we are God intends for us to share along the journey of life. The giftedness that we are is a story that we open ourselves to others and tell. In the same way, others share their unique story with us.
Fifth, as people who need a mission in life, sharing our life and love with others directs others to the God we worship and serve. Our lives are not about directing others to us, but to God.
What kind of life will lead to human flourishing? Why will we live our lives? I will present the response of one Christian to these questions. Few questions are more important for us to take time to ask and to answer. You may not come to the same conclusion to which I have come. However, I invite you to take this journey with me. Even if in the end you disagree, maybe something I say along the way can nourish you along this part of your journey.