When I was a student, I used to earn my money in the long summers working for a builder. Sometimes the work would be nice and easy – glossing outdoor window frames in the sunshine, with factor 15 and the radio on. Other times the work would be much harder. My least favourite job of all was fitting plasterboard ceilings. As the labourer, my job was to hold the board in position above my head while the fitter screwed in the fixings. Even now, I can still remember that feeling of a great weight above my head push, push, pushing down on me, while the muscles in my arms burned. I earned my minimum wage that day!
This idea of a weight pushing down on us is unexpectedly relevant for today’s passage. You’ll have noticed that the key word is ‘glory’, or its variant ‘glorious’ – in Greek, it’s doxa and it appears 11 times. But what is glory?
The original Old Testament word which doxa copies is ‘kabod’ and it literally means ‘weight’. So when we talk about glory, what we mean is literally the ‘weight’ of God falling on us. Obviously, a spiritual being doesn’t weigh anything, but the sense is that when God’s glory appears it feels like a presence pushing down on us, you could say pushing us to our knees in worship and adoration. On many occasions, when the glory of God ‘fell’ (significant word that), people often went further and fell on their faces in awe (e.g. Leviticus 9:23-24, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3). The weight of God has that effect.
In fact, the reference from Leviticus is helpful, as this was the occasion when Moses dedicated the original tabernacle, and Paul here in this passage describes how Moses had to wear a veil in the presence of God. But now – and what amazing news this is! – because of Christ and His indwelling Spirit, our access to God is no longer veiled. We can experience His manifest presence directly (v16) and not just occasionally, but on an ongoing basis (v11).
The tangible sense of God’s presence, or by extension anything that points to God’s presence, is how we use the word ‘glory’ now. And this is available to us! No wonder Paul gets excited and indicates the sort of effect this kind of realisation can have on us. It makes us bold (v12), we can approach God with confidence, knowing the Spirit of His Son is with us. It brings us freedom (v17), as we live with the truth in our hearts and with eternity as our future. And ultimately it transforms us (v18) – this ‘weight’ of God does not crush us, but shapes us.
Our task? Contemplation. To give our attention to what the Spirit reveals to us, to seek God’s presence – His glory – day by day. As we do that, we slowly become more and more the people we were made to be (v18) – with ‘ever-increasing glory’!
May God grant us grace to contemplate the Lord’s glory today.