Mankind was made for glory, and naturally hungers after glory. There is therefore nothing wrong with seeking glory, provided we seek it where the true glory may be found. “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21). Paul is saying that when glory is offered us in Christ (all things are yours), it is high folly to try to glory in men apart from Christ. Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (Ps. 34:2) — and when we boast in God, the humble hear it and are glad.
Sin is not seeking after glory, but rather falling short of it. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). When God renders judgment in accordance with our deeds, one of the things He will evaluate is the way in which we sought after glory. “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:6–7).
As a race, we were created to be glory bearers. We need glory. It is no more optional for us than oxygen, or food, or sex, or drink. The need to be a glory, and to glorify other things, is woven into the very fabric of our identity. We cannot not seek it. Man is the image and glory of God, and woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7). This is what we were created to be, and we cannot opt out of the burden of carrying glory. Glory is weighty; it is challenging. But it is all of these things precisely because of the relationship we have to God our Creator.
But we are also guilty. We have fallen from God’s original intent and design for us. We are guilty race, and have fallen short of God’s glory. We retain, however, the desperate need not to have fallen short of glory.
Because we are guilty sinners, it is easy for us to see the guilt of other members of our race, particularly when they have wronged us in some way. So one of the ways we fight for glory from our guilt-ridden position is by accusation. If we accuse the guilty, then by comparison we can be glorified. If we define ourselves over against that other tribe of people who are doing it all wrong, then we are vindicated. Our guilt makes us want to accuse; their guilt makes it easy to accuse.
This is why guilt goes on demented moralistic crusades. This is why we want to save polar bears that didn’t need saving, this is why we want to make the world safe for democracy, this is why we build bloody empires, this is why we call the practice of dismembering babies women’s reproductive health, and why sanctified sodomy is rapidly assuming the status of a civic sacrament. Guilt must be declared righteous; guilt must attain to glory. But apart from repentance and faith in Jesus, the only way to get there is by means of a moralistic and very public frenzy. In order to keep that frenzy from being identified for what it is, thus wrecking the glory party, it is also necessary to club any dissenters.
“This is why guilt is never a private matter, which can be settled privately, but is always a public matter. And this is the affliction of history, that man can know guilt, but not purity — can kill, but not make alive. That is why human guilt is always a historical matter” (Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, p. 20).
We are a very guilty people. We are also a glory-haunted people. The only possible outcome of this combination — apart from the great grace of reformation and revival — is tyranny. There is only one alternative to the tyrannical course we are on, and that is for God to give us preachers who will invite the nation to come to Jesus, and to give us a heart that will do so.
“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves” (Prov. 28:12).