One of My Favorite Creation Stories
While the Genesis stories get all of the attention one of my favorite creation stories is found in Isaiah 5:1-7.
You might say “that isn’t a creation story” but I think it is. It is clearly an origins story and as Israel and Judah in the drama of God stand in for the world as the servant of the LORD. Israel stands in for the world in the Bible just as Jesus stands in for Israel. Election is for redemptive cruciformity.
I use this as a creation story for both churched and unchurched audiences because I think it so clearly captures WHY God made the world. For glory.
A chapter later in Isaiah the angels will cry “Holy holy holy is the LORD Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory!”
Glory is hard to explain but easy to identify.
- When you enter Yosemite Valley you see glory, almost everyone does. Thousands of people come from all over the world just to be there. There are many other places in nature where God’s glory is evident to almost everyone even if they don’t identify it as God’s.
- When a skillful artist, in music, in culinary arts, in visual media, in almost any medium creates a work of art we see glory
- When a business, operation or team is running well we see glory
- In beauty we can see glory
- In love we can see glory
- The whole earth is full of his glory
Glory Calls for Contagious Celebration
People become natural evangelists when they see glory.
- If you meet someone who hasn’t been to Yosemite or Zion or how many national parks in the US we tell them they MUST go!
- If you eat at a restaurant and it is fabulous you tell your friends they must eat there
- If you see a movie that is glorious or read a book that is glorious you tell your friends to check it out
Glory attracts crowds.
While we are hesitant to send a salesman to our friend’s home and might do so with a sense of betrayal, we eagerly share glory with them and expect to be thanked for it.
When we experience glory we WANT to share it with our friends.
Glory shared is glory multiplied.
Why did God create this glorious world and us in it and for it?
God could enjoy his glory and Christians believe share it within the Trinity and even the angels. The glory is so great, and the enjoyment of that glory made greater still with the multiplication of persons who can enjoy it that God makes us capable of enjoying glory, sharing glory and multiplying the enjoyment of glory.
In the words of Shug in the Color Purple about the color purple “he’s not vain, just trying to share a good thing.”
Glory is Participatory
Notice in Isaiah 5 that the goal of the vineyard is wine.
Grapes have glory but wine has a special kind of glory. Wine “makes the heart glad”.
God plants the wild grapes, builds the infrastructure, but awaits the people to come and develop a new level of glory. There is a nod to Genesis 2 here. Humanity is a gardener. The wilderness is open to cultivation. Grapes can be manipulated, genetically engineered in old and new ways. Grapes have wonderful potential. People skill will bring the grapes to glorious new heights in wine. Science is assumed to be part of the pursuit of glory.
Glory is not limited to passive enjoyment, it reaches another level in active engagement.
Why do parents feel pride when their children succeed? Why do nations swell with pride when their team advances in the World Cup?
Glory is a team sport. Not only does glory create community but glory creates active community where diverse skills and excellencies come together to produce what individuals can’t by themselves and all experience glory through the participation.
God creates space for this glory, and leaves room for this glory. Wine is not found on the vines but he builds the hedge, digs the press, readies the space so that glory we may come and make glory with God for all to enjoy.
Glory is a Participatory Mystery
We try to turn glory into a science and it never works. Science has its own glory, but when it comes to complex, communal glory involving people, glory is always a gift.
In a class I recently taught this in was a woman who is a manager in a franchise restaurant. The owners want the restaurant to be glorious so they train the employees and the managers with all of the skills that social science and business science has achieved with respect to the pursuit of the glorious restaurant business. Every manager will tell you, however, that while much can be learned by this, by itself it is not a recipe for glory. It takes the right food, the right management, the right employees, the right customers, all things that cannot be controlled and when it happens, all too rarely, we see glory.
Sometimes it happens in spite of the science. People do things wrong and yet there is the gift of glory and we praise. Sometimes the manager implements all the learning with skill and that brings the glory. Usually it is a combination of all these things.
This is also true in the church. There is church science and lots of people giving advice on how to bring glory into the church. There is much wisdom we can learn and people can have skill, but glory is finally a gift. According to the Hebrews God cannot be manipulated or put in our debt, so gifts are always that, gifts and they are meant to be welcomed with gratitude.
Failure and Rebellion
The space was created, the table was set, but we came to the party with another agenda.
Glory excites other things in us. As soon as we see glory we want to possess it in a way that limits glory, reduces glory, and sets glory against us.
If you are invited to a concert to enjoy the glory of an artist, it is possible for the artist to diminish the glory by making the concert about the ego, the self rather than the glory. Glory is not honored and enjoyed for its own sake, it is a mercenary glory which devalues the glory itself.
As image bearers with skills to make glory we are clumsy with it when it comes to our egos. We get in the way. Sometimes our egos get in the way of enjoying the glory of others. We saw this with Cain and Abel. We see this with envy.
Sometimes we abuse glory. We use glory to take power over others and try to establish our well-being at their expense.
When I tell this story and there are recovering alcoholics in the room their faces fill with pain. They know the glory of the wine but they also know they can’t handle that glory. Glory is a powerful thing and that power with corruption can lead to misery and enslavement. After Noah leaves the ark he plants a vineyard, makes wine, and becomes drunk leading to family catastrophe. We can’t handle glory, at least not at full strength.
The story of Satan can be understood in this. Satan both loves and hates glory. He wants to possess it in all the wrong ways. We are Satan’s children when we live in relationship with glory as he does. We use it to enslave others. We try to make glory our servant for our own glorification rather than our sister.
In glory we can see God’s humility. He does not sign his name on El Capitan. He is the only master of glory and the only one who can be master of it and perfectly humble at once. Only he is in control of his ego sufficiently to handle glory and fill the world with it. Only he can safely receive praise perfectly. It can be both about him and he stays out of the way so that praise will never contaminate or corrupt, except in the suspicion of our hearts. We project our corruption upon him.
The Wrath of God
Isaiah 5 is a tragic song. The power to produce glory in our hands corrupts our heart end escalates our capacity to turn the gifts of God into the tools of Satan.
We like to imagine that with more power and more knowledge humanity will fill the earth with glory. Our track record is the opposite. Our power often multiplies misery and the loss of glory. We live “my well-being at the expense of others” and turn the vineyard into the place of injustice and the land of despair.
As we turn the vineyard against the God of Glory he turns the vineyard against us. Now the grapes wrestle against us as we wrestle against God.
The Son of the Owner of the Vineyard
Jesus will of course riff on the Isaiah’s vineyard song. Vineyards and wine will be found in his stories of judgment, redemption and glory winning in the end.
At the center of drama of the story is the relationship of our hearts and hands with glory and the source of all glory. Can we finally handle glory and not be corrupted by it? The only one who is entrusted with much is the one who has been faithful with little.
The revelation of the king of glory comes with the cruciform journey of Israel climaxing in the Son of God, called out of empire Egypt. This is why the story of Israel is the story of the world and the story of Jesus is the story of humanity.
The one who has primary status and power becomes one who has even his low status taken away from him. All others regardless of their earthly status are invited to follow in his wake. The game of worldly glory is defied in this journey only to be overturned on Easter morning. All those who try to save their lives lose it, all those who deliver over their lives, who live “your well-being at my expense” after the one who does this receive imperishable life. They can handle glory like the father and the son and can therefore live in the endless multiplication of glory.
They don’t just want to be loved like everything else, but they learn to love at great expense which is the perfection of the father.