Thoughts on the Scripture Readings for 18th February, 2007

Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36

All these passages seem to take as their theme the revealing (and veiling) of G-d’s glory.  The reactions to this glory, however, are quite different in each one: the Israelites can’t handle it, and so Moses must veil his face; the disciples can’t get enough and so want to build tabernacles to stay in the glory; Paul views it as further evidence of how the law is subsumed by Christ.  One phrase of Paul strikes me, however:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

Seeing the glory transforms.  In the cloud the Lord tells the disciples to listen to Jesus; Moses gives commandments; But these commandments cannot be merely law, because the law doesn’t transform—it conforms.

That is the classic difficulty of legalism.  Kierkegaard liked to say that ‘the religious’ transcends the ‘ethical.’  And here is the uncomfortableness of glory, or if you prefer, Lewis’s ‘weight of glory.’  God’s glory veiled offers comfort—it offers rules by which to order a community, but without demanding the holiness to withstand the glory.  Unveiled it transforms, it sears, it demands an obedience that is internal and direct, unmediated by stone tablets.  We want intermediaries—Moses, Elijah, pages inside a leather cover, whomever—to absorb the full brunt of the glory and give us the codified versions.  Jesus, however, wants us to come into the Glory with Him, thereby be transformed, and then return with Him to the valley and live and minister directly from the spirit.

I think this is where both ‘Liberal Protestantism’ and ‘Conservative Christianity’ go wrong.  Liberal Protestantism wants to reduce the Glory to humanitarianism—to the ethical, without the inner transformation which is the gospel.  Conservatives want to solidify the glory into tablets with rules set out for all time.  Both are really the opposites of the same error—it is the relationship that it vital.  Ethics are important; indeed, it would be wonderful if the entire world lived in humanitarianism/ humanism, in a socially-conscious, socially-just world.  However, Christianly speaking, it isn’t enough.  That is Sinai with the veil.  Christ removes the veil.  This implies not either/or but both/and—social justice and inner transformation, or social justice because of inner transformation.  If conservatives cling to the law to the detriment of the person, liberals cling to the person to the loss of the soul.  Christ calls us higher.

As reflected in a mirror.  Even in its most direct form, the glory we see is indirect.  Even on the mount of transfiguration, the Father spoke to the disciples in a cloud.  Sometimes we long for a Sinai moment, for G-d to overawe us with His glory, and make us know clearly what it is He wishes, and that we are indeed on the road to the Promised Land.  The disciples wanted to build tabernacles in the glory.  But that threatens to hide (even prevent!) the manifestations of His glory which are evident wherever His people seek His face: every cup of water (in His name), every kind word, every time pride is let go—there is not only a manifestation of Glory, but of increasing glory.  One step closer to removing the mirror and seeing directly.

All this has a nice and tidy sound to it.  Once we stop reading/writing, however, how does any of this actually appear in real, concrete form?  Sentimental ideals and calls to inner transformation are all well in good, but the poor are still poor, and the hungry still need to be fed.  Does it really matter if the person in the soup-kitchen line does it to feel good?  Or what of the person singing psalms with all their heart but stepping over the homeless person outside the door of the church?  Maybe the only answer available is ‘faith, hope, and love’: the same gospel can bring the humanitarian to the One who can feed them and convict the uncharitable.  All I can do is be open—let myself be transformed, and leave the same mercy I receive available to others.  Maybe then some glory may be reflected off me.

Jason M. Silverman

19 February 2007