The weight of glory
the weight of glorysome reflections of an amateur
You should never start a paper – even a short one – with an apology, so I won’t. I do however point to the fact that an amateur is someone who loves a particular topic but not necessarily has the credentials:-). That’s me.
Because I do not have any original thoughts on transcendence – as far as I know – I read the weight of glory by C.S. Lewis. On page 36 he describes himself as a “typical modern” and states that the word glory suggests two things to him, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous… While Lewis continued to write about glory in a passionate manner – much unlike a typical modern? – I started wondering whether the topic of transcendence (that I reluctantly replace with the term glory) landed well with his fellow modern readers. Lewis’ conclusion had a surprising (modern?) bent to it in the end as he emphasized the burden of our neighbour’s glory – instead of our own. Today’s wider interest in the transcendence of God and linked to that interest in symbols, rituals and mysticism seems to be induced by the desire to meet a God who is beyond us, loving yes, but awesome, holy and especially much bigger than our tiny lives. This paper will provide a summary of Lewis’ argument (if nothing else this might at least benefit us:-) and a couple of reflections of a self-proclaimed postmodern.
Lewis starts the weight of glory with the statement that nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we follow Christ contains an appeal to desire. An appeal to desire for our own good opposes “most modern minds” but Lewis argues that “our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak”… and that “we are far too easily pleased”.
He continues there are different kinds of rewards (3):
So, we desire something we do not know of: “we cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.” Sometimes we feel it closely like a foretaste through a sunset, books, music or memories but these are not the real thing. “It was not in them; it only came through them, and what came through them was a longing.” Many try to find this on earth but in the end all die and all is nothing and what we are left with is that we remain conscious of a desire no natural happiness will satisfy. That fact that we have a desire for heaven does of course not prove that we shall one day enjoy it, but it is a pretty good indication that something like that exists and that some will enjoy it. “A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called ‘falling in love’ occurred in a sexless world”.
Lewis then moves on with the promises of Scripture. It is promised:
This is Lewis’ question about these promises: “why any one of them except the first? Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ?” The first promise seems much less symbolical than the other promises for it suggests proximity in space and “concentrates on the humanity of Christ to the exclusion of His deity”. “God is more than a Person, and lest we should imagine the joy of His presence too exclusively in terms of our present poor experience of personal love, with all its narrowness and strain and monotony, a dozen changing images, correcting and relieving each other, are supplied.” The latter long quote points – I think – to the heart of the matter regarding our discussion of transcendence; we need transcendence to do some justice to the awesomeness of God.
Initially Lewis is shocked by the fact that many “great” Christians take heavenly glory in the sense of fame with God, approval, good report or “appreciation” by God. After he saw that this view was scriptural (“Well done, thou good and faithful servant”) a good deal of his old thinking fell down like a house of cards. No one can enter heaven except as a child and a child revels in being praised. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself.”
“To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
Now, what practical use is there in Lewis’ speculations… He points to the fact that we might think too much of our own glory hereafter but it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about the glory of our neighbour. “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
surprised by conclusions
Although I agree with Lewis’ practical use of “his speculations” about the weight of glory, I am also surprised by this conclusion as I did not anticipate it. The conclusion I expected – but hey who am I? – would have emphasized the implications of an overly human view of God and how this would limit God (and overstates humanity). The weight of glory could be realizing that God is so much bigger than us; the air can be so “pregnant” and heavy with his Spirit that we would have to fall on our face before him. Today’s wider interest in the transcendence of God and linked to that interest in symbols, rituals and mysticism seems to be induced by the desire to meet a God who is beyond us, loving yes, but awesome, holy and especially much bigger than our tiny lives. However, Lewis’ conclusion that we should be focused on our neighbour’s glory would be our natural response when meeting an awesome God like ours. At least, I hope so.
C.S. Lewis. The weight of glory (pp. 25-46)