Commentary: Clear as glass

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: Clear as glass

An e-Review commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker | July 8, 2010 {1194}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at    
One of the marvels of the world is glass. Without it, we would possess no windows, eyeglasses, telescopes or microscopes. It has been manufactured for 5,000 years, but there was never any glass without color until the Venetians invented it.
Glass is not a natural substance. Great heat turns sand into a liquid, which becomes glass when it cools.
John Stewart Collis says, “Pure glass is an invisible stone” which is “transparent” because the waves of light pass through it (“The Vision of Glory,” George Braziller Inc., 1973, p. 34).

Glass from the Venetian island of Murano, Italy. © by track5

It is remarkable that John the seer describes the New Jerusalem in the new heaven and the new earth as “clear as glass” (Revelation 21:18 NRSV). He adds that the street of the city is “transparent as glass” (21:21).

Since John is using apocalyptic language, he intends for us to understand him symbolically, not literally. In his symbolism of the New Jerusalem being transparent like glass there is a profound meaning.
John is describing a vision of the new creation. This is the world when it finally becomes what the Creator intended it to be.
The biblical vision of the future is not that the world is destroyed, but that it is transformed. It is the new home suitable for the resurrected people of God.
The striking feature of this world is that it is transparent as glass. In other words, through everything shines the light of the Spirit. The future world is the world that is transparent to Spirit. This is why John uses the symbolism of glass to describe the New Jerusalem.
Because so many hymns, prayers and sermons say so, it is necessary to emphasize that the new creation is not heaven, but this universe that is transfigured by the Creator. The New Jerusalem comes “down out of heaven from God,” John says (21:2). Likewise, our hope is not to go to heaven, but to be raised to a transformed existence in the new creation, for Christ will come “from” heaven to “transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20-21).

While we are assured by revelation that when we depart from this life we may be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23), our true hope is not just being with Christ after death, but the resurrection of the dead in the new creation when everything will be as transparent to the Spirit as glass is to light.
There is tremendous meaning for us now because of this biblical vision of the ultimate transformation of the creation.

Protoplanetary disks. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Even now, the present form of the creation may be transparent to the Spirit when we contemplate it by the eyes of faith, even though we shall only “see in a mirror, dimly” (I Corinthians 13:12). Any creature or phenomenon may become transparent to the Spirit so that we may see in it a glimpse of the glory of the Creator. This is because the Holy Spirit, whose power made the world and whose power will remake it, has descended into the world to abide in it. Mystics, poets and ordinary saints have all reported moments when the veil is removed, and they see the light of the divine shining in and through some scene or creature of the earth. The church reminds us of this spiritual transparency of creation whenever it “blesses” matter, such as water, bread, wine and oil.
The spirituality of creation is greatly suppressed in modern Western societies. For one thing, the scientific worldview, which is true in and of itself, conditions us to view the cosmos as mere facts, rather than as a window to the glory of the Creator. We are conditioned by this reductionist worldview to forget that “the whole world is full of his glory.” Moreover, we spend our days inside buildings and our lives inside institutions, and our spirituality atrophies as our experience of the natural world is reduced to the barest minimum.

Without a spirituality of God’s creation, our stewardship of our planet is weakened. Because we do not experience God’s glory shining in and through all things, we think of the world as nothing more than a pile of “resources” to be exploited for our use. Utility of the world replaces the spirituality of the world.
The spirituality of creation, which bolsters our sense of responsibility for the earth, is grounded in the larger biblical understanding of the relationship between the present creation and the future new creation. Since the world will not be destroyed, but transformed because it is loved by its Creator, our actions now matter. Even though only God can transform the creation, God chooses freely to work with us. While we cannot define this mystery of synergy or divine-human cooperation, we have faith that it is so. We live now as if the future is near, praying that the kingdom of God (the new creation) will come “on earth as in heaven.” We trust that we shall be judged in the future “for what has been done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10), which is to say, in our present existence, in history and in creation. Thus, biblical eschatology (the promise of the future new creation) expects ecological wisdom now.

Windmills, like these in Mykonos, Greece, have been harnessing the power of the wind for centuries. Photo by Heiko Gorski. ©Wikimedia Commons GNU Free Documentation License.

There may be a nuance of meaning in John’s reference to “glass” in the Revelation, which was not apparent even to him, but which is suggestive to us today. As I said, glass is not a natural substance, but a product of technology. We make glass out of sand. In order to do our part to make this present creation more transparent to the Spirit, we must care for it with wisdom and sacrificial effort. Caring for the creation will involve technology. (John is not unaware of the role of human technology in God’s purposes since he describes a “city” in the new creation.) 

It is tempting to denounce all technology when we witness something as disastrous as petroleum spewing from a well for months at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the same technological ability that has polluted the world for 150 years may be used to produce energy in new ways that do not destroy the natural environment.

The challenge to create a new technology and social order that protect the world and nurture life may be the single greatest test of our era. But this challenge is not merely technical; it is also moral. It is moral because it is spiritual. It is spiritual because it is God’s purpose that God’s presence in and through all of creation become as clear as glass.
News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

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