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Reading Is Worship 10: Glory Spectrum Of Reality

Before seeing how God glorifies Himself across a glory spectrum in many kinds of stories, often without their authors knowing, we must explore how He glorifies Himself in Scripture and in people’s real-life choices.
| Nov 1, 2012 | No comments | Series:

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No matter what happens, God the Storyteller of reality will get glory for Himself, shining His wondrous worth either over or through the choices we make, in many colorful ways. That includes the stories we enjoy, or in some cases create.

Steve DeWitt in Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God In Everything, defines glory like this:

Glory is the light of divine delight. Specifically, it is the brilliant, emanating overflow expression of God’s infinite delight in being God. Glory light expresses God’s glorious worth. God chooses to express His invisible, infinite worth in a visible, created way. A created thing can reflect or express a spiritual reality.

And what better created things can we discuss here but stories, in this (likely soon-ending) series about how Reading Is Worship? Here’s a review of the series’ second half thus far:

  1. Stories have meaning beyond themselves. Knowing this meaning makes them better.
  2. Scripture alone is how we know God and what glorifies Him, and know that its Story is what all other hero-quest-and-world stories reflect (even if unintentionally).
  3. God glorifies Himself in more ways than a “dimmer switch” of a single light shade. His glory is an array of colors, seen in heavenly visions in Scripture and in the literal colors beheld in creation. We only give Him glory by re-mixing those colors.

Yet how we re-mix His colors, and often try to recombine them into something perverted or ugly, or simply shut our eyes and refuse to see them, leads to more questions. Does that mean “it’s all good”? Do non-Christian storytellers get credit for reflecting Biblical truth in varying hues? Might some stories be so bad they have no “color” of God’s glory?

In my view, and in order: no; no, God does; and it depends. Here’s more about why. And I believe the proof lies first in seeing the ways God gets glory, whether over or through either real-life choices, or the stories we read and enjoy.

Glory over choices

The Prince of Egypt (1998) actually shows Pharaoh’s face change as he consciously chooses to harden his own heart. (God somehow also hardened Pharaoh’s heart [Ex. 7: 3-4].)

Ex malo, bonum, goes the Latin phrase. Augustine wrote it to contradict the teaching of Seneca the Younger. That Roman philosopher had written bonum ex malo non fit, “good does not come from evil.” Augustine disagreed. “Out of evil [comes] good,” he wrote.

That’s a Scriptural concept: God works good, for His glory and our good, out of evil (Gen. 50:20, Romans 8:28, and more). Evil is real, God is not the Author of evil, yet God is in control of evil and has never lost Authorship of His Story. Its villains are His villains.

One of those is Pharaoh, whom Paul first used as a good sermon illustration for both human responsibility for sin and God’s desire to use those sinful choices for His Name’s sake:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Romans 9:17

It turns out this paradox — Pharaoh’s evil, God’s good — wasn’t the apostle Paul’s idea:

“I [God] will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”

Exodus 14:4

God is not the only One who sees good come from evil choices. We ourselves may even see benefits from evildoers’ unintended consequences, as Joseph famously told his brothers:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Gen. 50:20

Joseph’s brothers, and Pharaoh, had their own “stories” in mind: respectively, to get rid of Joseph, and disobey God’s command to let His people go. God had his own Story in mind, and His Story, which He used to glorify Himself, was over theirs. That’s a vital preposition, over, lest we are tempted to minimize human sin while identifying the glory due to God.

Glory through choices

By contrast, God works specifically in His people to glorify Himself through their works.

One can’t speak of God’s glory without explicitly referencing Christ, the Hero of the Story: He emptied Himself and as a human obeyed God, died and rose, and ascended, so that all would know He is Lord, “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2: 5-11).

With creation fallen, only Jesus can glorify God perfectly. And it’s only through His life of righteousness that people are made righteous, and can begin to glorify God more directly.

Thanks to Jesus, God can be glorified through us consciously, not only over us.

That’s the exploration of God’s glory over and through reality. Next comes more about how He glorifies Himself over and through different sorts of stories.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller

Stephen, I may be talking past you on this topic, but it seems to me there’s a significant difference in our positions. Using the real life situations you mentioned above, I’d say God received glory, no doubt, but because of what He did, not because of the sin the people did. Hence, their actions aren’t glorifying Him. His power and wisdom and goodness to redeem evil intentions or judge a hard heart is what brings Him glory.

So, too, with stories. How He uses them glorifies Him. A sinful man writing lies about God does not glorify God. He may choose to use those stories at some point in time in ways we can’t imagine or as a catalyst for judgment. But we live in space and time, and what we see from stories like Phillip Pullman’s slander against God is … slander against God!

Avatar is another more recent example. The images of the divine in that movie were heretical. Yet some people have said they understand the incarnation better because of it. That’s God’s work, God’s doing, not the movie makers who clearly made nature divine and espoused any number of pseudo-Eastern mystical ideas.

Nobody ought to say that story glorified God. It slandered Him, lied about Him, gave all kinds of false ideas about His world and the way it works.

Did God glorify Himself in and through Avatar the way He did through Pharaoh? No. Has He glorified Himself through the movie in the lives of select individuals? Apparently. Will He glorify Himself when He brings those who do not repentant to judgment? Definitely.

In the meantime, what do we see? A movie that slanders God, not one that brings Him glory.