What is God's glory in Christian theology

Knowing God's glory on earth

Ursula Rudnick on the Gospel on the 2nd Sunday of the year, Joh 2,1-11

in. SKZ 1/2010

Before our eyes, John unfolds a different world than Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is characterized by a theology that is rich in images, in which theological thoughts and images are inextricably linked. A central aspect of John's message is already formulated at the beginning of the Gospel: God's glory appeared in the Jewish man Jesus Christ on earth.

What is written in the scriptures

The first activities of Jesus - according to the tradition of John - include the gathering of disciples and a first sign, the wine miracle at the wedding at Cana. Signs play a special role in the Gospel of John; there are seven in total. They include several healings, the wonderful fishing trip and the feeding of the 5000, as well as the resurrection of Lazarus. The evangelist explains the meaning of the sign: "This is what Jesus did as the beginning of his signs in the Galilean Cana, and revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him"
The miracle occurs on the third day. This can refer to the third day of the week, then - according to the Jewish count - it would be a Tuesday. Or the timing is read against the background of the resurrection "on the third" day. Then it is not the time that matters, but the appearance of the whole story of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, his disciples and also his mother are wedding guests. It is the mother of Jesus who points out to her son that the wine has run out. An uncomfortable situation for the hosts, it is their job to ensure joy: "And wine delights the heart of the person." (Ps. 104.15). Jesus hesitates: "My hour has not yet come." This sentence can be understood as a reference to Jesus' crucifixion and his return to God. The mother of Jesus does not respond to this sentence: she is convinced that he will do the right thing and instructs the servants: "Whatever he tells you, do." Jesus takes on the role of the house owner and complies with his mother's wishes. He gives the order to fill jugs with water. The evangelist mentions that these jars are intended for ritual cleansing. Interpreters of earlier times took this as an opportunity to defame Jewish ritual practice and postulated that Christianity outdid Judaism. The liquid from the jugs is presented to the caterer for tasting: it is good wine, of better quality than the one previously served.
The miracle is a sign, it is not unambiguous, but refers to something else: God's glory, which is shown in Jesus Christ.
The term "glory" in Hebrew Kawod, in Greek Doxa, is a term that plays an important role in the Hebrew Bible. The German translation "Herrlichkeit" only partially captures him. In its basic meaning, kawod means “heavy”, “weighty” and can have a negative as well as a positive meaning. So burdens are heavy in their concrete as well as figurative meaning: the yoke of work, the tax burden (1. Kg. 12.4.11) or also the burden of sins (Ps. 38.5) and also the anger with the fools (Prov. 27.3). In its positive meaning, the word "rich" means "to be respected." In the 10 commandments, the request is to send kawod to the parents, which is mostly translated as "honor". Unlike the adjective, the noun Kawod has only positive connotations. It is used equally to characterize humans and God. If a person is said to have kawod, it means wealth, prestige and honor. The importance of the person is shown in the reputation, in the honor, which is at the same time a mirror of the importance of the person. To give Kawod to a person - or also to God - means to give him or her the appropriate weight, the appropriate meaning.
In Ex. 33. 18-23, Moses asks God: "Let me see your kawod." God answers: "You cannot see my face and stay alive ... When my Kawod passes by, I will place you in the crevice and hold my hand over you until I am over." This passage is often quoted to demonstrate the radical transcendence of God in the Hebrew Bible. In the same chapter of the book of Exodus, however, a completely different form of encounter between Moses and God is described. They talk to one another "eye to eye, like people talk to one another." (Ex. 33.11) God's Kawod can - but does not always have to - be a threat to humans. It shows itself in many ways: in nature (Ps. 29), in the deeds for the liberation and salvation of his people Israel (Isa. 40.5) and in the covenant between God and Israel on Sinai: «... and left the glory of the Lord down on Mount Sinai ... And the glory of the Lord was to be seen like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain before the Israelites. (Ex. 24.16-17). God's presence can be experienced: in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. (Ex. 40.35). The destruction of the temple was felt to be such a great catastrophe because the place where God's presence could be experienced had been lost.
The Kawod of God is not only recognized by his people, but the peoples also recognize them or will see them. E.g. in Psalm 97.6. "All peoples see his glory." For John the Evangelist it is clear: the glory of God is shown in Jesus Christ. He says this in the prologue (John 1:14) of the Gospel; this is what the wine miracle stands for. With this sign, Jesus shows his glory.

In conversation with Johannes

Christians saw God's glory in Jesus Christ. This is brought to mind every year at Christmas time. Sometimes there is a narrowing of the perception of God's glory: it is then only seen in Jesus Christ. Reading the Hebrew Bible widens one's view of the various appearances of God's glory, God's Kawod. It invites you to look for traces and signs of God's glory not only in history but also in the present.
John also describes the reaction of the disciples: they believe Jesus. Faith - entirely in the sense of the biblical tradition - does not show itself in the approval or rejection of certain statements, but in the following, which is shown in action. «Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. (Joh. 14.12) and: "Whoever has received my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me." (John 14.21)
And with that John takes up an important aspect of the Torah: God's will is to be done. This biblical principle is developed in rabbinic Judaism and plays a central role in Judaism up to the present day. Fulfilling commandments means providing God with a dwelling on earth.

Prof. Dr. Ursula Rudnick