What is this glory? The holy seraphim say that the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord. The holy prophet Habakuk prophesies a time when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. What is the difference? What creates a consciousness of the glory of the Lord? What constitutes an earth so full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord?
Tolkien wrote a short story called “Leaf by Niggle.” It is a wonderful story about the purpose of our existence and it reminds me of Lewises observation regarding the meaning of the name written on a stone and known by no other which Jesus promises in Rev 2.17. In the story, Niggle, who is “the sort of painter who can pain leaves better than trees,” gets on from painting leaves to a whole tree and from there to the country seen through the leaves and the branches. But then he dies and goes to purgatory for a few centuries. When he is well enough to proceed onward he finds himself before the tree he painted and in the incomplete country he had imagined. His work is now to complete this country, not with paint and canvas but actually. It is a wonderful picture of the greater reality of heaven. And it is a wonderful picture of how much creativity is a part of the meaning for our existence. Think of the answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism and ask yourself what does it actually mean to bring glory to God and enjoy him forever?
Tolkien also has an essay on “Fairy Stories” that sets forth some of his ideas on sub-creation as distinguished from creation which belongs to God alone. He insists that our creativity must not be a boundless and ungoverned making up. He shows that there is a set of rules, or a type of order, that must always accompany our sub-creating. We know this if we think about unsuccessful attempts. How do stories fail? or music? or art? Who doesn’t know of bad music, poor paintings or lousy books? Why do they fail? I think that they fail means there is a standard, a natural law. There are built in rules, there is a natural order that governs things so that we know if a story is a good one or a bad one, if a piece of music is excellent or pretty lousy. We are not free to create at random.
Freedom is rather when we find our place in that order, when we understand the order well enough and to such an extent that we can use it properly, obediently, and well. The act of sub-creation is done in humility, understanding the order created by the Creator, and possessing that understanding which comes through delight in what our Father has made. The stone mason has to have a love for stone, the carpenter a love for wood, the storyteller a love for language, for stories, for the medium of his work. And this love is the proper way of knowing. We must delight ourselves in them to know them, and then the knowing and delighting can grow.
The great poet Isaiah, that holy prophet of old saw the glory! And he knew it, for he was able to convey it on to us. I think the connection between the glory which is present and the glory that we know is by way of creativity. It is by delighting in our Father’s works that we come to appreciate the glory better. So when I see the holy prophet Habakuk saying that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory, I do not think he means simply that the earth will be populated by believers. I do not think he means the earth will be marked by the bodies of saved people at regular intervals. There has to be a deeper delighting that grows through greater familiarity. I think he means the earth will have and share a culture in which all men appreciate and communicate the glory through their living in the society of one another. The filling of the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord is its filling up with great music and great poetry, great cathedrals and great restaurants, great human activities that stretch and grow our capacities to enter all the time more deeply into the wonders of the rich and wonderful creation of our Father. And I remember Niggle, and my imagination fails.
I think the holy prophet Habakuk tells us that the trouble now is a want of sense, and it is that which makes us poor. Isaiah saw that glory and spake concerning Him. St. John beheld his glory, and was transported with revelations of the world to come.