“For the glory of God is a living human; and the life of a person consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.” – Irenaus, Adverses Haereses 4.34.5-7
“The revelation of the Father which comes through the Word gives life to those who see God.”
There is an old tradition that those who see God will die. Understandable; the most reliable time for meeting one’s maker is at death’s door. Still, there are those who have sought God out and lived to tell the tale.
Take Moses, on the mountaintop; and when he came down from his encounter with the glory of God, his face shone so brightly that the people begged him to veil it.
Elisha refuses to turn back from his journey with Elijah, even though the prophets warn him of what is coming. They are not asking him to abandon Elijah in his final hours; they are seeking to save Elisha’s life, knowing that he risks seeing God and dying right alongside his master.
Except that Elisha doesn’t die. In fact, he becomes even more alive. He inherits a double share of Elijah’s spirit, just as he asked. In the verses that follow, he returns to the Jordan with Elijah’s rolled-up cloak, and marks the flowing water into separate pieces just as Elijah did, just as Moses did at the Red Sea, and God confirms his call by drawing the waters apart and sending him back to the doubtful prophets on dry land.
Peter, James, and John, unlikely prophets, hardly men you’d mark down as mystics, are invited into the mystery of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus, blazing through him like an all-consuming fire. And they heard the voice of God, the voice that spoke out at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, now telling his disciples, “listen to him.” And although they would witness the death of God on the cross, they also knew resurrection, and they all lived to tell the tale, and lived and told it passionately.
“For the glory of God is a living human; and the life of the person consists in beholding God.”
The last of our baptismal covenant promises asks, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” For the glory of God is a living human, and the manifestation of God is what affords life to all living in the earth.
There are many challenges to this promise. Some are clear: murder, mayhem, the death of the young at the hands of the deranged and the over-armed. We have heard the slogans: Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. Moslem lives matter. Women’s lives matter. All lives matter. The glory of God is a living human being. Respect the dignity of every human being.
Sure, sometimes, the issues are nuanced. But sometimes, the grey areas themselves are just smudges, dirt that been smeared around rather than being wiped clean.
Speaking of grey areas, I have been challenged this Valentine’s weekend by the release of a certain movie, about which I know there are differing opinions, but which many have criticized as symptomatic of the fifty or more ways in which our culture has glorified power and eroticized violence that has nothing to do with true intimacy, and much less to do with dignity, let alone love.
It’s not an easy subject to think about, let alone talk about. But I read a blog by a Presbyterian minister – I’ll post the link to our facebook page – and at one point she says this,
Meanwhile the rest of the world watches. Friends, you do know they are watching, don’t you? Because Christ’s resurrection makes us one family with people around the world, they are our sisters and daughters and nieces and mothers. While women we [meaning, I think, her Presbyterian church] love and partner with in Congo try to heal from the physical and emotional scars of rape, we are munching on popcorn watching violations of physical and emotional safety being sexualized. While we lay down 20 bucks to be “entertained” by sexualized violence, young men and women in the Philippines are outsourced to Malaysia where they must service 21 men a night in order to eat the next day.
Do you see the connection?
The author of the blog, Shannon Beck, suggests not seeing the movie, and instead donating the cost of a movie ticket and popcorn to a local women’s shelter or an international organization. I’ve donated my twenty bucks to a local organization here in Cleveland that helps to prevent human trafficking and supports its survivors, those living right here among us.
We are all connected, and what we teach by our actions, accidentally or one purpose, will be learned by those who watch us. Whether in the arena of community relations or race relations, or even in romantic or domestic relations, the kinds of relationships that we make and break will show the world what we mean by love, respect, and dignity. We are always an example to someone, no matter what kind of example we may be.
When I think about Transfiguration, about the glory of God made manifest in the Son of Man, I remember a summer’s day, July 7th. Across the ocean, London was in bedlam, murder and mayhem wielded by the deranged and the over-armed had just taken place. Here, the day dawned bright, clear, sunny. At the pool, it was playday, the last morning in the week’s swimming lesson sessions. A gaggle of children slid down the slide, hauled themselves out of the water, and round and round to do it again. My friend sat down beside me. “I’m sorry they attacked your country,” she said. We sat together in silence, watching the children go round and round. The lifeguards tried to dampen at least some of their exuberance. “No running!” The children stopped running. But they did not walk. Instead, they began to skip. Round and round, down the slide, out of the pool, and skipping, skipping away, and laughing, their lifeguards laughing with them with unfeigned delight, at their courage, their creativity, the dignity of their choices, their irrepressible joy.
They were my example that day of the glory of God in the human being fully alive, bright lights shining in dark times.
Those children deserve to grow up with justice and the promise of peace. They deserve to grow up knowing the dignity of their bodies as well as their souls, deserving of respect, knowing how to demonstrate respect to one another. They deserve better than shades of grey; they deserve the light that shines brighter than any fuller can bleach it. They deserve not light at the end of the tunnel, but the brightness of God’s love surrounding them this and every day. No exceptions.
They will not die if they see God. We will not die from seeking or from seeing God, nor from showing God’s love to one another. Indeed, it is the only way to become fully, brightly alive.