God's glory and human glory

I have gradually become aware how essential this word “glory” is in John’s Gospel. There is God’s glory, the right glory that leads to life. And there is human glory, the vain glory that leads to death. All through his gospel John shows how we are tempted to prefer vain glory over the glory that comes from God.

Human glory is always connected with some form of competition. Human glory is the result of being considered better, faster, more beautiful, more powerful, or more successful than others. Glory conferred by people is glory which results from being favorably compared to other people. The better our scores on the scoreboard of life, the more glory we receive. This glory comes with upward mobility. The higher we climb the ladder of success, the more glory we collect. But this same glory also creates our darkness. Human glory, based on competition, leads to rivalry; rivalry carries within it the beginning of violence; and violence is the way to death. Thus human glory proves to be vain glory, false glory, mortal glory.

How then do we come to see and receive God’s glory? In his gospel, John shows that God chose to reveal his glory to us in his humiliation. That is the good, but also disturbing, news. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to reveal his divinity to us not through competition, but through compassion, that is, through suffering with us. God chose the way of downward mobility. Every time Jesus speaks about being glorified and giving glory, he always refers to his humiliation and death. It is through the way of the cross that Jesus gives glory to God, receives glory from God, and makes God’s glory known to us. The glory of the resurrection can never be separated from the glory of the cross. The risen Lord always shows us his wounds.

Thus the glory of God stands in contrast to the glory of people. People seek glory by moving upward. God reveals his glory by moving downward. If we truly want to see the glory of God, we must move downward with Jesus. This is the deepest reason for living in solidarity with poor, oppressed, and handicapped people. They are the ones to whom God’s glory can manifest itself to us. They show us the way to God, the way to salvation.

Henri Nouwen, in Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings


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  1. I read these words of Jesus in John 5 this morning – “I do not accept glory from human beings . . . How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?” (v. 41, 44)