Updated: Oct 20
Once in a while a person holding a hand-written sign stands on a prominent street corner in our town. The sign they hold contains part of a Bible verse or some kind of warning about end times. I tend to want to look away and think thoughts like “I bet that person is mentally ill” or “Wow, they must be some kind of fanatic to stand out there thinking a sign is going to make a difference.” Well, here I go, holding my own sign of 1,200 words for all of you to read; and I hope you read it all the way through without “looking away” and writing me off as somewhat crazy or a fanatic.
As a church, we have begun to read through the book of Ezekiel. The book is apocalyptic prophecy, written by the Jewish priest Ezekiel during the time Jews were exiled into captivity by the Babylonian/Chaldean empire, somewhere around 593 B.C. Our pastor defined prophecy as speaking truth from God and differentiated apocalyptic prophecy as truth from God about what’s going on in the spiritual realm. In chapter one, we see Ezekiel making his best effort at describing a vision of God on His throne that he simply doesn’t have adequate words for. Our pastor likened it to looking at an impressionistic painting which is best appreciated from a distance. When you get up close to the details, you can’t make out what the artist is trying to represent. Instead, you must stand back and just glean from the overall impression to understand what you are seeing.
Ezekiel 1:28 ends the explanation of the vision by saying “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” What he saw was a LIKENESS of the glory of the Lord, not THE glory of the Lord. Ezekiel can’t describe it to his satisfaction. He has seen something beyond the ability to describe with language. He responds physically by falling on his face. His knees give out, and he falls prostrate before the Lord in a combination of humility and worship.
Last year I had an experience one late summer afternoon on my back deck that caused me to put my knees down on the ground, my hand up in the air, and tears to flow, asking God to move back a little. I believe this experience was for me personally. The Lord came nearer than usual and allowed me to experience Him until I asked for more distance because the nearness was too much for me. Wanting to capture the moment, I wrote the experience down as best I could. I only shared the details of this experience with five people. I don’t think they were impacted by the story the same way I was, but that is probably because it was truly meant just for me. I had been spending more extended time with the Lord, seeking comfort and healing (both physically and emotionally as I recovered slowly from my hip replacement and tried to deal with grief from lost loved ones as well as my own sinful, angry outburst at someone who had hurt me deeply). I believe that because I drew closely to the Lord that day, He drew very near to me. Honestly, it was truly overwhelming, and I asked God to give me space. The assurance of His forgiveness, His love, and His comfort was received, but His nearness was too much.
I could write thousands of words about this experience, but I don’t know that it would fully resonate with readers because the experience was meant for me to know God better in relation to my own life. For those who know my blog name, I’ll say this much…yes, a butterfly was involved, and yes, I have numerous photos. God brought several things together in one afternoon (including things written 20 years prior, and things written that same day, as well as other seemingly random but well-designed messages through a variety of unrelated sources) to show me some of His glory and to comfort me in my time of grief, sorrow, and weakness. The photos, the items, and the writings are all still accessible to me, but the strong, overwhelming nearness feeling has left me. The memory of it is clear, but I cannot say that I am continuing to experience a nearness too close.
As our church heads into this book of apocalyptic prophecy we see that it is introduced with this unable-to-be-grasped vision of who God is. It’s Ezekiel’s vision, and I think God intended for him to see God in tremendous grandeur and glory so that he could obey the outlandish directions he’s about to be given. What he writes about God doesn’t really help me to see God more clearly, but it certainly impacted Ezekiel. He was being held captive by the Babylonians along with 10,000 other Israelites and God decided to put his hand upon Ezekiel, show him who He is, and intended to use him to be a watchman to warn the Israelites of their sin, with the hopes of their repentance, returning to worshipping the Lord rather than idols.
That was Old Testament style, but the New Testament tells us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (see James 4:8). We don’t have to wait for God, but rather He is waiting for us. He’s made His move in extending the offer of reconciliation with Him through Jesus. It’s our move to accept and then to spend time with Him in quietness, in prayer, in contemplation of what we see that indicates God’s creative power and glory, in repentance, in reading His word, and in worship. When we do this, He uniquely meets us in meaningful ways to reveal His glory to us.
I’m left with the question of “what exactly is God’s glory?” There’s so much more to be discovered in seeking to understand it. Probably the most well-known place it is mentioned is in the second chapter of Luke, where the shepherds meet an angel of the Lord along with the radiance of the Lord’s glory. Their initial reaction is fear, but the angel reassures them he is bringing good news. Then the angel is joined by a vast host of angels, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” This glory is beyond our full understanding and is reserved for the one and only God who has characteristics beyond anything we as humans are capable of living out ourselves.
Let’s contemplate God’s glory today and strive for a deeper grasp of what it is…and what it means for us. My hunch is that we will gain understanding of different aspects of His character based on what He chooses to reveal to each of us. Prayerfully scan the day looking for His glory, and whatever He shows us I believe it will be a revelation to move us closer in our relationship to Him.