Weight of Glory revisited

by Tim Isbell, April 2, 2018

After reading C.S. Lewis' “The Weight of Glory” essay several times, I decided to make my underlinings and annotations more accessible in this webpage.

Midway through the writing process, I found myself scheduled for a challenging legal deposition in San Francisco where an attorney would spend an entire day cross-examining me. By the day before the deposition, my anxiety had reached its limit. So I decided to avoid the next morning's commute traffic and instead drive to the city that night, check into a hotel, and hope for a good night's rest. Once there I needed something to settle my nerves, so I read through an early draft of this webpage, reflected on it for a few minutes, and then headed to bed. Surprisingly, I slept pretty well. 

The next morning, I repeated the process and then walked across the street to the deposition. Later that night while driving back home, I realized that at just the right times throughout the day excerpts from the draft slipped into my head. That experience, along with the prayers of my friend George and those of my wife Robin, resulted in a calmer me than I'd experienced for several days!

Since then I've polished up this webpage in hopes my readers will find it helpful. The first part is my notes on Lewis' essay itself, and the last part contains my comments on the essay.

Essay notes begin here

Many people think that the highest human virtue is unselfishness, the suppressing of desires. But self-denial is not a suitable end goal because it just leads to more desire.

Christians, however, know that the highest human virtue is love. C.S. Lewis writes, “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak.” We are like “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased.”

Lewis writes that humans strive for three kinds of rewards:

  1. Those without a connection to what we did to get that reward. For example, money is not the natural reward of love, which is why we call a man who marries for money a mercenary. Neither is permission to play on a high school baseball team the natural reward for earning passing grades in our classes.
  2. Those with an obvious connection to what we did to get that reward. Marriage is the natural reward for love. The coach putting us in the lineup for the next baseball game is the natural reward for practice. Proper rewards are the activity itself in consummation.
  3. Those that come slowly and unexpectedly at the end of a long process. After we get such a reward we see the connections that led to it, but the reward came as a surprise. After it arrives we are able to desire it for its own sake, but before then the process is a struggle. Lewis notes that learning Greek is a long arduous process with many mini-milestones. The end goal is too far out-of-sight. But after the long process, we are surprised at the joy we find in reading Greek poetry.

Because we are made for heaven, a desire for our proper place is already somewhere in us, but not yet attached to its true object. Our desire may even appear as attached to a rival of the true object. The world tries to convince us that we can find that object on earth, but it is elsewhere.

So we remain conscious of desires which no earthly objects or affirmation can satisfy. If Christianity tells us no more about that far-off land than our temperament leads us to surmise, then Christianity is no higher than ourselves. Fortunately, immersion in Christian formation provides a hint of our ultimate desire and points toward it.

We can reduce the promise of the scriptures to 5 headings:

  1. That we shall be with Christ.
  2. That we shall be like Christ.
  3. That we shall have glory.
  4. That we shall be fed/entertained.
  5. That we shall have some sort of official position in the universe - ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars in God’s temple, etc.
Number 3, glory, is special. It suggests two ideas: being famous and being luminous.

Being Famous

Lewis does not mean “famous” in the sense of being better known than others. He means to have “fame” with God in the sense of his approval and appreciation. Lewis means that we can hear God say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Consider a child, or a student, or an athlete, or a worker, or our spouse receiving praise. Put ourselves in these positions at the moment when we receive appreciation (fame) from a parent, teacher, coach, boss, spouse. Now think about standing before our Creator as a redeemed soul and learning that we have pleased Him whom we were created to please. We’ll know we didn’t earn the praise. But it is ours just as if we did. When God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself! So we rejoice in being the thing God has made us into.

This kind of glory is possible only by the work of Christ in us. Any of us who chooses shall survive the examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To be a real ingredient in the divine happiness, to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work - this seems impossible, a weight of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But this was God's purpose in creating us.

Glory, which Christianity teaches will satisfy our original desires, reveals an element in that desire which we had not noticed. By ceasing to consider our wants (desires) and instead to follow and serve Jesus, we begin to learn better what we really want and it will lead us to glory.

Being luminous

We do not want to merely see beauty - we want to be united with the beauty we see. We desire to receive beauty into ourselves, to become a part of it. And God offers us the path to become part of his grand beauty.

In this life we are treated as strangers; the longing to be acknowledged and affirmed is part of our inconsolable secret. We live outside the door, but the New Testament rustles with the rumor that eventually the door on which we knock all our life will open. God will look at us and invite us to join the ultimate “inner ring.” Then we will put on an even greater glory than that which we see in the inanimate objects of creation. These offer just a sketch of our potential luminosity. 

How this impacts everyday life

One way to think about the weight of glory is to think about “weight” in terms of the burdens of this life, and how trivial they are alongside the eventual weight of glory God has for us in the next life. This way helps us hold steady through difficulty.

Another way is to think about weight is in terms of the joys, affirmations, and the acceptances of this life. All of these, taken together, only hint at the weight of glory in the next life. This way gives us a foretaste of what is to come and encourages us to keep going.

A third way is to recognize the potential weight of our neighbors’ glory. Lewis says it this way, “It is serious to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest person we talk to today may one day be a creature which, if we saw it now, we would be strongly tempted to worship it - or such a horror and a corruption as we now meet only in nightmares. All day long we are, to some degree, helping one another to one or the other destination. There are no ordinary people. Nations, cultures, art, civilizations all are temporary. But it is the immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, and exploit who have the potential for eternal glory. Except for the Blessed Sacrament (eucharist/communion) itself, our neighbor is the holiest object presented to our senses.” This way of thinking provides context for us to interact with those around us - even those who do us harm.

This is the end of my notes on C.S. Lewis’ essay. What follows are a few of my own thoughts on "The Weight of Glory."


A closer look at 2 Corinthians 4

In the same days when I reflected on Lewis’ essay, I happened to read 2 Corinthians 4 in the NRSV. In Verse 17, the phrase “weight of glory” jumped from the page! So I reread the chapter and noticed references to glory and illumination, words that Lewis used prominently in his essay. These observations confirmed, to me anyway, that 2 Corinthians 4 informed the essay.

Here's a helpful look at 2 Cor 4.16-18 in an old and new translation:

 New Revised Standard Version The Message

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.


A closer look at the word "weight"

Initially, I could only think of “weight” as a burden, a bad thing. So I asked my wife, the real family theologian, to help me understand its use in the scripture and in the essay. She researched the Greek word, and we read the passage in other translations which led us to understand that Lewis’ did not just mean the “burden of glory.” He also understood “weight” in another way - a good way.

The tiny jar at the top of this webpage contains white, brown and black grains of rice. It represent the experiences of our earthly life. The white grains represent times when someone affirmed us or invited us into an inner ring - these experiences feel so good. The black grains represent the times of sufferings, discouragements, and being excluded from an inner ring - these experiences dishearten us. And let the rest of the rice represent the range of experiences in between. 

Alongside the tiny jar, notice the large container filled to overflowing with white grains. This container represents our experiences in the next life of receiving God's affirmation for a life well lived in following Jesus, and God's invitation into the most important inner ring of all. This big container represents the weight of glory and it awaits all who follow Jesus.

Wrapping things up

Here’s my most succinct summary of “The Weight of Glory”: 

C.S. Lewis’ essay, scripture, and my personal experience convince me that all earthly troubles and joys are trivial compared to the extravagant, eventual glory God offers us, along with every person we’ll ever meet. We can experience, initially in this life and far more in the next, God expressing his delight in the “us” he has created.

These thoughts anchored me through the deposition, making the drive home as joyful as the previous night’s drive to San Francisco was burdensome.

The invitation into God's inner ring, and the weight of glory that accompanies it await you.

Blessings,

– Tim Isbell


End notes: 

  1. The richness of Lewis’ essay is far greater than my post. "The Weight of Glory" is the first essay in a book by the same title. It is widely available; you can even find free PDF versions online. 
  2. Lewis first used “The Weight of Glory” as the title of his second sermon, preached at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England on June 8, 1941. It was published later that year.
  3. In my webpage, I use the term "inner ring." For more on this, check out C.S. Lewis' essay, "The Inner Ring," which is the sixth chapter in The Weight of Glory (the book).
  4. See also The rest of the journey: Becoming like little Children, my good friend George Larsen's blog post which offers more perspective on the same C.S. Lewis essay.
  5. To print out this webpage, look down below... all the way into the blue-green border. There'll you'll find a Print function that produces a nicely formatted version.
  6. For notifications of new content to this site, please check out this link: Isbell Online News.


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