Man was created to worship God’s glory, and we saw in that earlier list of experiences that our appetite for God’s glory is one of the most foundational motives in our lives. We have longings. It’s one of the things that sets us apart from the animals.
But here’s another thing that sets us apart from the animals. I’m going to call this thing borrowed glory. So now I’ve got another term to straighten out. What do I mean by borrowed glory?
Man, according to the order of creation detailed in Genesis 1 and 2, is God’s crowning creation. If we are naming the things God made that shine his glory forth most spectacularly, there are all kinds of things competing for the list: the Grand Canyon, those mysterious sea creatures living along the Mariana Trench, a butterfly’s wings, or the Salar de Uyuni, the huge salt flat in Bolivia. But according to the climactic order of the creation account, none of those things was God’s crowning creation. That distinction is reserved for mankind.
We are the only created beings ever said to be made in God’s own image. Not even the angels can boast that. We were, in a unique sense, “crowned…with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). This glory is a borrowed glory, a reflected glory. The glory of the moon rather than the glory of the sun. But it is a real glory nonetheless.
What does it mean to say that man possesses borrowed glory?
Let me answer this question with another question. Have you ever encountered a person and then described them to someone else later as intimidating? What about fascinating? Inspiring? I am sure you’ve met an older person or a friend of the same gender or a peer of the opposite gender who instantly dazzled you. Surely you have been rendered jittery and awkward in some specific person’s presence, and not because you were romantically attracted to him or her. Surely you have also been rendered serene and happy in someone’s presence.
What is it about these people that gives them such power over you? Why is it that we can all guess what you mean when you say, “She was intimidating”?
And what relationship, if any, does this have to the glory of God? Would we use the word intimidating to describe God? I don’t think so—not exactly. We wouldn’t apply this word to our relationship with God because it would be a gross understatement. We won’t be intimidated when we finally stand before the God of heaven, any more than we will be amused or fascinated.
No. We will be devastated, overwhelmed, terrified, enamored, and silenced. We will find that our entire previous existence is both done away with and justified, both crushed and consummated.
That is what the glory of God means. Intimidated doesn’t begin to describe it.
But having established that, we should acknowledge something else. Those words we use to describe people, such as intimidating, fascinating, inspiring, and infatuating, are like the younger cousins of words we use to describe God. When we say we are intimidated by a person, this is like a miniature version of the awe or reverence that we feel toward the God in whose image they are made.
These things are related. The relationship is derivative, metaphorical. One glory is borrowed from the other and was made to whisper things about the other.
And because it was borrowed from the One for whom all glory was named, there is something very real and unavoidable about the glory of human beings. We are terrible and lovely creations, purposeful and intelligent and attractive (though while under the curse of sin, also willful and insane and hideous).
When you see a truly beautiful woman on the street, it is hard to pretend she isn’t there. Beauty demands a response, whether it’s admiration or hatred or desire. When you listen to a skilled politician craft his words for a crowd, you can almost feel the weight of his influence. Excellent communication demands a response. When you talk to a true artist about his work, the power of his vision and talent thrums like an engine beneath the conversation. Good art demands a response.
Glory is always like that. It demands response.
Even in tiny amounts. Even the broken shards of glory that you see in a fallen human. You were made to respond.
But as real as the glories of man feel, they are only real because of where they came from. And the fact that they are borrowed means that they’re only ours for a lifetime. Every person, even an enemy of God, gets to wear some kind of borrowed glory, because even the enemies of God are made in his image.
“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” asks the psalmist. “Yet…[you have] crowned him with glory and honor…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8).