THE QUEST FOR GLORY
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, God will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7)
It was my last basketball game as a high school senior. I still remember the numbers: 23 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocked shots–one of my best games. But we lost by three points, and we were out of the tournament. As I walked off the floor, I had had a feeling of utter emptiness. I didn’t touch a basketball again for two years.
You see, I’d been waiting and working for that moment for much of my life. Our school had a strong basketball tradition. Students and parents–everybody was crazy about basketball. Basketball seemed more important than good grades, more important than almost anything. If you were good at basketball, you were somebody! So already as a little boy, I dreamed of future glory. I dreamed of the day I’d make the starting five on the varsity team. I worked and worked at it. I often shot baskets by myself for hours at a time. From grade seven on, I went through grueling practices two hours every day to prepare for weekend games. And finally my dream came true. I was on the starting five. I had made it.
And then, just that quickly, it was over. Something I’d been aiming at my whole life, something I’d spent countless hours preparing for, was over, and it all seemed so useless. I felt empty. It wasn’t just that we lost. It was the fact that I had geared so much of my life toward the glory of basketball, and now I was facing life after basketball. Something that had mattered more than anything else to me suddenly didn’t matter at all. In fact, I hated it, and I had nothing to do with it for the next two years.
Today I don’t hate basketball. I play for fun, and I like to watch an occasional game. But I’ll never forget the horrible, hollow feeling when the thing that meant so much to me suddenly meant nothing.
Be Like Mike?
I wonder if what I felt as a small-time player in a losing cause is much different from what the greatest basketball player in the world felt after three world championships, seven straight scoring titles, and an annual income estimated at $40 million. When Michael Jordan announced his retirement, everyone was shocked, especially those of us in the Chicago area. Many were hoping his retirement wouldn’t be permanent, that he’d change his mind. We couldn’t help wondering: Why would someone who’s only thirty years old, at the top of his game, at the height of his glory, suddenly call it quits? Everybody wanted to “be like Mike,” but at that point, Michael didn’t. He was sick of it.
Sports is a quest for glory. Kids dream of being like their favorite superstar, of making the moves and hearing the roar of the crowd. And even many grownups, long past their athletic prime, are still rabid sports fans. They have all the moves of a couch potato, they have no chance of starring in any sport, but they identify with certain players, they spend countless hours watching them, and they share in the glory when their heroes win. That sense of shared glory is one reason sports is such big business, and it’s also why commercials featuring celebrity athletes are so successful. If you can’t be like Mike on the basketball court, you can at least drink Gatorade and eat Big Macs and wear Nikes like he does. Maybe a little of the glory will rub off.
But what if the glory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? I know what it’s like for a sport to mean almost everything one moment and almost nothing the next. I suspect Michael Jordan experienced much the same thing. His life had been basketball, he still had the skills to do what everyone else could only dream of, but he didn’t want to do it anymore. Even if Michael plays again, he knows basketball really has nothing left to offer him, and he knows there has to be more to life than running around in gym shorts.
Yearning and Frustration
Have you ever had a similar feeling? It can happen in athletics, but that’s not the only place. For example, you do all you can to be popular at school, but then the senior prom is over, you graduate, and your school popularity rating means zilch. Or you study night and day to enter a certain profession, and when you’re finally in your job, it’s not nearly as glorious as it appeared when you were striving to get there. Or you immerse yourself in your career and business, you earn various awards and promotions, only to wake up one morning wondering whether there’s life after retirement. Or–and this is the ultimate, most terrifying instance of this feeling–you look death in the eye, you look back on your life and what you put all your efforts into, and you ask yourself: Is that all there is?
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking this way, of course. We don’t spend much time thinking, period. Either we’re still in the process of chasing our dream, and we’re too busy to sit down and ask ourselves whether it’s worth chasing, or else we’ve had just enough of that empty feeling not to want any more of it. It’s too depressing. We’d rather not think about it, and we don’t have to. We’ve got plenty of stuff to occupy our attention and our time: golf and MTV and restaurants and the Sports Channel and the new car and “Home Improvement” and the party next weekend and Oprah and the concert and the ski trip and the mall and a million other things that save us from silence and from the aching emptiness that goes with it.
But whether we admit it or not, each of us has been created with a need for glory, honor, and immortality. We want to be important and impressive–we need glory. We want to be accepted and approved and applauded–we need honor. We want it all to last forever–we need immortality. This is the great yearning and the great frustration of our lives.
Our yearning is often misdirected into sports or popularity or career or whatever, where it finds only emptiness. But the yearning itself is legitimate. We have it because the Source of glory and honor and immortality has created us for himself, and our hearts will be restless till they rest in him. According to the Bible, God has put eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He has filled his creation with splendors and wonders that awaken us to “his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). He has stamped enough of his moral law on our hearts to remind us that we live in the presence of a Will greater than our own. He has revealed enough of his mystery and majesty throughout history, and supremely in Jesus Christ, to show that we live in the presence of a being than whom none greater can be conceived.
He’s done all this to get us started on a quest for glory that ends in him. And when all is said and done, the God who made us with this in mind is the one who will determine what our lives amount to. In Romans chapter 2, the Bible says,
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, [God] will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger… This will take place [says Romans] on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ (Romans 2:7-8,16).
Those words cut through all our illusions and confront us with the meaning of our existence. Everything we think, everything we say, everything we do has lasting value only if we’re seeking the glory, honor, and immortality that God alone can give. When God talks about glory, honor, and immortality, what does he mean? What is it we’re supposed to be seeking?
Well, let’s start with the word glory. One meaning of glory has to do with greatness. A glorious person is someone who is significant, weighty, someone who is very, very important. He’s achieved something great or holds some lofty position. A superb athlete or a powerful politician has glory in this sense. Another meaning of glory has to do with splendor. Something is glorious if it’s beautiful, dazzling, awe-inspiring, like the glory in a marvelous painting or sunset or symphony or supernova. So if you’re seeking glory, what you’re aiming for is to be important, or splendid, or both.
How important? Jesus speaks of putting his faithful followers in charge of cities and kingdoms when he comes again (Luke 19:15-19). The apostle Paul writes that the saints will judge the world, that they will even judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). In Revelation, the Bible says they will reign with God over his new creation for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5). That’s how important God’s people are going to be.
And as for splendor and radiance? Daniel 12:3 says, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever.” Jesus himself uses similar words, saying that “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
Now, if you picture this as being lit up like a Christmas tree, it seems a little silly. But when the Lord says we will shine, the reality is that the splendor of God himself, the splendor of which the sun and the stars are tiny sparks, of which the grandest symphony and the loveliest painting are only a hint–we will not only see this splendor, but we will be somehow be part of it and radiate it. Writing to his fellow Christians, the apostle John says,
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
There have been some who think it’s wrong to expect this kind of glory or seek it. Charles Darwin wrote, “Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worth the interposition of deity, more humble & I believe true to consider him evolved from animals.” But is it really false pride to say that God created us in his image, with eternity in our heart, with glory as our intended destiny, when that’s what God himself tells us in his Word? And is it really humble to say God doesn’t know what he’s talking about? It may sound humble to say we’ve emerged from slime and are destined for extinction, but in reality, it’s just an excuse to cast off the tremendous weight of glory and the obligation to purify ourselves that goes with it, so we can think and do as we please.
If you read the Bible, you find that our biggest problem isn’t that we aim too high, but that we aim too low. We don’t seek too much; we seek too little. We seek importance in sports and business and politics; we seek beauty in workout videos and cosmetics and expensive clothes. We seek this kind of earthly glory, when nothing less than the glory of God himself will do.
When you set your sights higher and seek glory from God, it doesn’t make you proud. It humbles you, because you know how far you still are from what you’re seeking. When you hear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) you don’t shrug and say, “Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. We’re only human.” No, you grieve that you’ve fallen short of God’s purpose for you, you seek the glory of God in spite of the fact that you’re so far from it, and you trust that in your quest for glory, God will not disappoint you, that some day you really will be made worthy to rule with him and radiate his splendor.
In addition to seeking glory, Romans 2:7 also talks of seeking honor. Seeking honor means you want approval, recognition, praise, and you won’t be satisfied till you get it. Again, this is a craving that can turn in a lot of wrong directions, but the desire itself is part of the way God made us.
Kids will do almost anything to win honor and approval from their friends. Athletes thrive on the praise of the crowd and the trophies and honors that go with winning. Students are proud to make the “honor roll.” Wealthy philanthropists want the honor of having a building or endowment named after them, instead of giving the money away quietly. Almost everybody wants honor.
And for some, no honor is ever enough. I remember a couple years ago how a running back complained that he wasn’t getting enough recognition for how good he was. You know when he said that? Shortly after he won the award for most valuable player in the National Football League. With thousands of fans screaming his name, and sportwriters around the country declaring him the best player around, he thought he deserved more recognition. Our hunger for honor is almost insatiable.
We seek all the honor we can get from others, and if we can’t get it from them, there are plenty of therapists and teachers who are eager to help us honor ourselves. They’re in the self-esteem business. So even we don’t get many compliments, even if others don’t appreciate us, with a little self-esteem, we can at least appreciate ourselves.
All this springs from the fact that we’re created with a need for honor, and we’ve twisted it. All the compliments in the world and all the self-esteem we can pump into ourselves can’t begin to replace the only true honor: being accepted and approved and, yes, even praised by God himself.
The man who wrote Romans, the apostle Paul, knew that honor from God is the only kind that really counts. What others thought of him, even what he thought of himself, didn’t really matter all that much. Paul writes,
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
“Praise from God”–now that’s honor! If God praises you, it doesn’t matter who despises you. And if God despises you, it doesn’t matter who praises you.
When our desire for honor is perverted, we’re so anxious to please that we become suckers for peer pressure, we’re so anxious to impress that we become showoffs and hypocrites, we’re so eager to feel good about ourselves that we become self-centered navel-gazers. But when we seek honor from God, we realize we can’t ever impress God or earn his favor. All we can do is love him as our Father and try to please him the way a little child tries to please its parents. We want to make God happy and hear him say, “Well done.” We want the tender and beautiful words of Zephaniah 3:17 to come true in us: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” When you seek true honor, you seek to bring joy to the Father’s heart, to hear him singing over you, to know that you have pleased the one you were created to please.
We’re to seek glory, we’re to seek honor, and, says Romans 2:7, we’re to seek immortality. As long as people have lived on this planet, there have been some whose philosophy is, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Have a blast while you last! But God has put eternity in the heart of man, he has raised his son Jesus from the dead, and he has showed us that we should be seeking nothing less than immortality.
There are some who wish we could just die like animals, without thinking about eternity. If we could die like animals, then we could also live like animals, without any burden of glory or any moral obligations. The poet Walt Whitman wrote,
I think I could turn and live with the animals/ they are so placid and self-contained… They do not sweat or whine about their condition/ They do not lie awake in the darkness and weep for their sins/ They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.
The trouble is, no matter how much we might wish to be like animals, we’re not animals. Like it or not, we’re designed to be immortal.
God has put eternity in our hearts, and we can never quite get rid of it. No matter how much we might twist or suppress our craving for immortality, living for the moment isn’t enough. The very fact that when we’re having fun and enjoying ourselves we wish the moment could last forever is one more proof of our craving for immortality. Sometimes we can hardly bear the fact that our happiest times, our finest achievements, and even our very lives must come to an end. And that’s because we’re designed for immortality. We can listen to smooth talk about accepting our limits, death with dignity, and so forth, but it’s just a subtle attempt to stifle our need for immortality so we won’t have to admit our need to seek it in the risen Christ.
The Christian is a person who seeks immortality, who focuses on it, and lives right now in the light of eternity, all because he or she is linked by faith to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Colossians 3:1-4 the Bible says,
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with him in glory.
Don’t Settle for Less
So how about it? Is your life a quest for glory? Is your main focus on glory and honor and immortality, or on earthly things like sports or popularity or success or having a good time? If your goal in life is anything less than glory, you sometimes reach a point where you have the hollow and empty feeling I described earlier. And this feeling is just a warning signal of worse things to come. It’s a small taste of the ultimate emptiness awaiting us if we abandon the quest for God’s glory and instead chase our own priorities. The Bible says,
…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:18-21)
What about you? Are you eagerly awaiting the Savior, or is your appetite your only god? Are you doing good, or are you just doing what feels good? Are you seeking eternal life, or are you concerned only about right now? What’s your main goal? It makes all the difference in the world, and in the world to come. Let me read Romans 2:7-8 again:
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, [God] will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
When Romans talks about persistence in doing good, it doesn’t mean that doing good earns eternal life, but that doing good is the result and the evidence of living with eternal life as our goal. The quest for glory isn’t something we begin on our own initiative, and eternal life isn’t something we earn on our own merit. As the Bible says:
God…saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
Are you a follower of Jesus? Have you begun the quest for glory?
If not, what are you waiting for? Don’t settle for anything less. And if you have begun that quest, live like it! You have a lot to look forward to.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.