God’s glory is the one thing of real substance that has power to call out the truth of who we are as we stand in the truth of who God is.
“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore, once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.’ Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’ You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” (Isaiah 29:13-16)
This scene shows us the substance of conviction. Perhaps Isaiah includes these words because they resonate so deeply with his own encounter with glory. In Isaiah 6, as he stands in the unhindered glory of God he is forced to see himself as he is. God’s response to Isaiah’s reaction reveals His character as a God of grace and love. Conviction and confession call forth destiny.
It is a common pattern among biblical greats. Peter experienced such a moment in his first exposure to Jesus. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter says, just before he is called to fish for people (Luke 5:8).
Paul had an “Isaiah experience,” too, centered on a weakness that he called a thorn in his flesh. He begged God to take this thing—whatever it was—away. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about a conversation with God as he stood before Him holding this weakness up for healing. “Three times,” he says, “I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Finally God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The real gold in this story is a word unique to this passage. Episkenoo is the Greek word translated “to tent upon; abide with; rest upon.” Paul uses this word to paint an Exodus-colored image of God’s glory pitching a tent over people traveling a desert road. It recalls the picture of Israelites in the desert on their journey out of slavery toward God’s promises. They traveled with a tent that served as the place of worship and a sign of God’s presence among them. God’s glory rested on that tent, showing up in daylight as a cloud and at night as a pillar of fire.
Paul borrows that image and this word—episkenoo—to create a holy union of worship and wounds. The glory of the Lord, Paul seems to say, finds our weak places, spreading a tent over them and overlaying that with His glory as if to say, “Watch this! What you call weak, what you’ve given up for dead, even what you’ve screwed up, over that I will spread my glory and draw up the good.”
We have seen this same glory in His one and only Son, who finds people standing out in the blazing sun of weakness—unknown, stuck and powerless. Over those souls—over us—He pitches his tent and brings his Spirit to rest. Glory.
Do you want God to pitch His tent over your weakness? Do you hunger for Him to show up in your desert? Bring your wounds into the place of worship, acknowledge them for what they are and call on His glory to be made manifest in your presence.
In the Kingdom of God, conviction and confession are pathways into the glory of God. James’ call to “confess your sins to one another and be healed” (James 5:16) is not just a call for grace. It also calls down glory, revealing not just who we are but who we can be.
Marva Dawn’s book, Power, Weakness and the Tabernacling of God, expands on Paul’s 2 Corinthians statement and discusses its implications for the Church.