Judging from many a recently heard prayer, Christians seem to want to bless and praise and glorify God a lot; or to sanctify and make famous God’s name; etc. Even sometimes to “boast in God” [sic]! But what are we even talking about?
I don’t know for sure. I am aware (vaguely) that each of these verbs traces back to a biblical antecedent. Lots of psalms urge their readers to bless the Lord; or promise to bless the Lord “in the congregation” if and when the Lord comes through on the deliverance for which the psalmist pleads. E.g., “I will keep the promises I made to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people, in the courtyards of the Lord’s house” (Psalm 116:18, CEB).
Paul talks a lot about blessing God, too. Arguably it’s a central theme for his writings. He seems to think in Romans, for example, that the basic human problem is that we do not “honor God as God or thank him” (1:21). A signature sign of trusting in God is “giving glory to God” (4:20), like Abraham our forefather. Paul even summarizes Christ’s mission like this: “Christ welcomed you, for God’s glory” (15:7). In longer form: “Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy” (15:8).
But if it’s such a big deal, what is it, this glorifying God? Does it mean Christ “became a servant” (with all that entailed!) so that humans could have a powerful devotional experience?
Not to belittle this possibility (after all, perhaps God is most glorified when humans are most [devotionally] satisfied…). But it seems to me a balefully limited outcome for the death of God’s own Son; and a piss-poor reply to the devastation of this world. As if a supercharged devotional bonanza is enough of an achievement to ascribe to the blood of Christ; or as if a seraphic worship experience could compensate for, say, hundreds of years of racial violence (even the saints beneath the altar still cried out, “how long, o Lord, before you require justice?” Rev 6:10). It’s also discomfiting to remember that, historically, those theologians for whom this interpretation of glorifying God was most important were some of the least concerned about making this-worldly reparations; their sequestered vision of glorifying God paralleled their sequestered understanding of discipleship.
No. Glorifying God cannot mean looking away from the bloodiness of our national and world history, shifting attention to a more exalted plane (“And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace”). Nor can it be a practice for interiority and privacy only. For the psalmists, blessing God was a public occasion: pointing to God’s rescuing power before the great congregation. For Paul, this glorifying of God is not a goal that looked away from impossibility. As for Abraham our forefather in faith, Paul claims that for us also, glorifying God is facing down raw impossibility, without qualification or caveat. Sarah could not have children. And the hellhole of American racial history cannot be sutured. And we cannot be made whole.
Except: except: except: for hope against hope, in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence” (Rom 4:17).
Glorifying God is holding onto the promise of God in the face of truly depthless impossibility. And holding on, out loud, in public. Trusting in God to save, even when – especially when – what salvation would even mean lies beyond comprehension and beyond imagining, on the other side of human incapacity. Glorifying God is stirring up our shared memory of God’s creating and resurrecting work so that we may hope afresh.