/ / Articles

Reading Is Worship 11: Glory Spectrum Of Stories

If God’s multihued glories shine in all of reality, how do we find such glories in stories and be moved to worship Him?

Did the results of Tuesday’s U.S. elections give glory to God?

Based on our answer to real-life issues like that, what about non-Christians’ stories that include non-Christian notions — do those glorify God?

As discussed last week, that depends on whether God gets glory over or through something.

That’s a simplified argument. Does God get “perfect” glory in His Church? Surely not. His former enemies, we His adopted children, have many flaws — flaws His Spirit is repairing from within. Does God get “perfect” glory from His world? Many of the Psalms extol how creation sings His praises. Yet we also learn those praises are mixed with groans (Romans 8), because creation still longs to be resurrected as we do.

We may only say for certain that God gains “100 percent” glory through the righteous life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Yet from that His perfect glory ripples into creation and begins to reflect. People whom He redeems in turn work to redeem — not because we can make things perfect but because we honor His already/not-yet glorious perfections.

In order: 1) His creation, marred; 2) His perfect redemption of people whom He declares righteous yet also works to change; 3) His redemption of creation and our “subcreations.”

All throughout His glory shines, not as a single hue “turned up” or down, but a spectrum.

This leads to stories. If God’s multihued glories shine in all of reality — whether getting glory over or through an action — how do we find such glories in stories? How might this point us more toward the truth that reading stories can be an act of worshiping Him?

Glory over stories

Many people make stories based on sinful motives. How do we know? One test: if they’re human, they have a sinful nature and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). All they do will also fall short, including their storytelling. Yet still God will get glory over their stories.

Lengthy discussion after this series’ part 9 focused on Phillip Pullman’s intentionally-atheist His Dark Materials books, and the Disney film The Lion King. I’ve not read Pullman’s work, and I’ve only seen The Lion King once. But a better example may be a more-popular franchise that recently lightsaber-sliced its way to the headlines.

But will this glorify God (and honor fans) better?

Does Star Wars glorify God? If we asked George Lucas, he would surely say no. He wanted to make movies and embed them with oddball pagan beliefs (even before “midichlorians”).

If we asked Christ, He might quote Scripture. What man means for evil, God means for good.

But back to the spectrum of part 9, the “rainbow” of God’s glory. What “color” is Star Wars? It depends on who is looking. Lucas may have tried to dim his films’ colors to gray shades (especially the prequels), and unredeemed people will likely not see anything beyond, much less respond accordingly. Yet for those who behold God’s white-hot glory, containing the prism of His created-colors, they can see His Story reflecting in that story:

  • The vivid greens and lush blues of a world originally created beautiful and good.
  • Then a dark gray explosion and billowing blacks of that good world gone wrong.
  • A tingling flash of gold as a hero rises, called to join a cause far greater than himself.
  • Clashes of gold against gray and black, as the hero on his journey fights against evil.
  • Pooling, dark crimson as the hero faces terrible loss and seeming permanent defeat.
  • And finally, crimson and gold and greens and blues overcome darkness as terrible loss suddenly turns to wondrous final victory — what Tolkien called eucatastrophe.

Any story, defined as a written or visible construct that follows this, reflects Scripture.

And contrary to some implications I’ve seen, even among speculative story fans, we should not credit man for this accidental echo of truth. Instead we credit the first Speaker for His common grace that can be heard by those so attuned by His Spirit, whose ears are open.

Glory through stories

Here’s a perennial question that’s surely buried in the minds of Christians who love stories: if non-Christians’ stories can echo God’s truth by “accident” and glorify Him, why should “Christian speculative fiction” do anything different? Shouldn’t we seek stories (or try to write stories) that only focus on story first and wait for the truths to repeat “accidentally”?

I can’t help thinking of the inherent fatalism in that well-meant perspective.

One might as well fail to share one’s faith because whether or not people come to know Christ, God will be glorified. Or fail to care for the poor, assuming God will care for them.

Only Christians have a chance to glorify God through enjoying stories, or creating their own.

Exploring requires conscious, God-exalting effort.

As redeemed saints, ours is the optimal position. We know the Author better, thanks not to us but Him, and we know the Story better, the Story that all other good stories ultimately reflect. So why not desire to glorify/worship God more “directly” in our reading?

That is why we need Christian stories, not only accidentally worshipful but intentionally worshipful. And not merely to shout louder truth but to show brighter and dazzling colors.

This is also why we read worshipfully: because we are not fatalists. Because God glorifies Himself in splendorous ways through freely chosen, intentional, robust, joy-aware reading. Because just as with political elections, He sets alternatives before us and in effect asks, Which one? Either way, He is glorified — but we should prefer glory through, not over.

Glory by contrast

What about stories that have little light and are almost dark with the author’s rebellion?

First, it occurs to me that all too often are Christians willing to indulge in those stories because they find something “redemptive.” Sure, the movie had 95 minutes of sex scenes and one intense 15-minute rape sequence, but wow, those seconds of sunshine through the forest of trees really made me think of God’s love for diverse mankind. I understand needing to put up with some things — but why seem to prefer those stories over those with better ratios?

At the same time, we as readers provide our own light. Even if a story is one long moment-before-eucatastrophe, with the final victory never arriving, we ourselves know the victory. We ourselves in reading, even “enjoying” in a sense such a story, see it contrasted with light.

Surely this is why God includes such dark descriptions in Scripture. Judges 19 is not lovely, but it’s truthful, showing why Israel needs spiritual leadership. Its darkness is set against the backdrop of God later permitting Israel to have a king. That darkness shows this turn of the story in more-vivid gold. Yet later that color also dims, fades to a background, set over the hideous darkness of anarchy but before the infinitely brighter light of the final King.

God’s light is a diamond, made even brighter in all its intrinsic colors against black velvet.

Yet we’d be fools to stare only at darkness, or to publish a Gritty Parts Only® Bible version. (Equally foolish, I must add, would be fatalistic withdrawal from Gospel-powered politics!)

Which colors of God’s glory do you see in stories — over, through, or by contrast?

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, I continue to disagree with your basic premise, but at least I think I now understand why. In your opening you said, 

Did the results of Tuesday’s U.S. elections give glory to God?

Based on our answer to real-life issues like that, what about non-Christians’ stories that include non-Christian notions — do those glorify God?

As discussed last week, that depends on whether God gets glory over or through something. (boldface emphasis mine)

I can happily say, no the elections did not give God glory (on multiple levels), but at the same time that God will get glory because of them. I don’t see “give” and “get” as synonyms, but you seem to use them interchangeably.

My contention throughout has been that some stories are false and actually intend to mislead people; they are tools Satan uses to deceive and devour. But because God is the ultimate victor, all Satan’s efforts are vain and as God puts His triumph on display, He receives glory. The stories that Satan uses, however, do not give Him that glory. He gets glory in His triumph over them. It’s not because of them; it’s because of God’s victory over them.

From The Harry Potter Bible Study by Jared Moore:

All forms of media either reveal God’s glory by agreeing with God’s Word or hide God’s glory by telling lies . . . The authors, characters, directors, etc. are always arguing a point, perspective or truth-claim, and their arguments either agree or disagree with God’s Word . . . In God’s world, all truth is God’s truth and all lies are the devil’s lies . . .

This is my perspective, too.

When Jesus told the Pharisees that they were of their father the devil, He was not saying they were glorifying Him by telling lies about Him. That God is stronger than Satan, able to turn what was meant for evil into what accomplished His purposes, does bring Him glory. NOT the lies.

By the way, the verse you said Christ might quote doesn’t say what you suggest. It’s not generalized in the same way you worded it.

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)

It was specific to Joseph and his brothers–an evil act they did that God redeemed to benefit many. I also think it’s unwise to put words in Jesus’s mouth since, in fact, Scripture does not record that He quoted that verse.

Becky

 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

At last, some time to respond not only to this comment, but last week’s by Becky.

I agree that this seems mainly to be a discussion over semantics, and perhaps one of present emphasis. In this series, I take man’s sinful intent when doing a thing — such as writing a story — as an absolute given. With that established, I then ask, Okay, so how does God get glory from such a story? How do we see His beauty/truth here?

I can happily say, no the elections did not give God glory (on multiple levels), but at the same time that God will get glory because of them. I don’t see “give” and “get” as synonyms, but you seem to use them interchangeably.

Indeed. And I believe I see this now. You read “give” and hear a matter of intent there. We would agree that God “[got] glory over Pharaoh” (Exodus 14:4), but to say that Pharaoh’s actions gave God glory could imply that this “giving” was willful. Not so. This was a very unwilling “giving.” As it is when God gets glory from a story crafted by non-Christians. They “give” a thing only when it is His in the first place.

My contention throughout has been that some stories are false and actually intend to mislead people; they are tools Satan uses to deceive and devour.

And that is a vital truth this series does not mean to ignore — and which we must proclaim. We must discern this especially when given the (I hate to admit this, but …) rather naive approach I see in some Christians who have discovered Legalism is bad, but then seem prone to say now that “it’s all good.” One recent example: the Game of Thrones TV series. Folks, I understand this show features full-frontal nudity and porn-level sex scenes. If you want this show, what are you doing to avoid that sin-inducing stuff (which is the only media content no Christian can Biblically see?).

But because God is the ultimate victor, all Satan’s efforts are vain and as God puts His triumph on display, He receives glory. The stories that Satan uses, however, do not give Him that glory. He gets glory in His triumph over them. It’s not because of them; it’s because of God’s victory over them.

Amen. Thus also my distinction between God’s victory through a thing or person and His victory over them. (I may be incidentally borrowing this from a systematic theology somewhere.) And speaking of such theologies …

By the way, the verse you said Christ might quote doesn’t say what you suggest. It’s not generalized in the same way you worded it.

That verse is Gen. 50:20. Joseph is speaking to his brothers, who after a time of long estrangement and then lengthy reconciliation, have still hidden their concerns that after their father dies, Joseph will be angry with them. Instead he assures them:

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.
   
Genesis 50:20

I do use that as a more-general principle, as many Christians have, not because the wording there says this, but because it’s a constant, recurring principle throughout Scripture: What man means for evil, God means for good. This was also true in the stubbornness of Pharaoh, the divisions and exiles of Israel and Judah, the death of Christ, the persecutions of the early church, and the whole His-Story of mankind.

True, I don’t know whether Jesus certainly would apply this principle to a thing like Star Wars, which was made with story skills yet evil intents. But Christ might say remind a questioner of a truth like this, especially if a questioner was convinced that only man’s sinful nature and the Devil got a kind of “glory” from this action.

Finally, from the last comment, a reference to the movie Avatar:

Did God glorify Himself in and through Avatar the way He did through Pharaoh? No.

At first I though to agree here, but then this seems to presume on His plan. For my part, I must say: I have no idea, but it surely seems from here that He wouldn’t.

Of course, I didn’t see Avatar; I only heard how its art and beauties affected people.

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.

Amen.

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

Again, this would depend on the beholder and/or movie “piece.”

In your case, you may not have been able to see the glory-reflections. In my case, I believe that by seeing the film at all, I would be wasting my time. Even non-Christians (such as the foul-mouthed but thoughtful critic “Mr. Plinkett”) called the movie derivative and emotionally manipulative.

But I also know plenty of Christians who came away from that film scoffing at its mystical/environmental nonsense, but who also loved the animated beauties and used that sense to worship God and anticipate His redeemed creation. God “got glory” over that film’s Godless makers and intents, at least in their case — and on that vital point, it seems we agree!

By the way, one very good and God-exalting discussion about Avatar and other pop-culture mixtures of truths/beauties and lies/ugliness is here. This live forum was hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary folks in February 2010. One can read the summary, view the video, or download the free MP3 audio file.

Thanks again for the discussion, Becky (and not only because you’re the only one still discussing)! I’ll wrap up the series this Thursday, with a few assorted thoughts.

 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Hi, Stephen, I think some of what I said to Bainespal might answer you, so I’ll try not to be too redundant. First, here’s a point of disagreement early into your response. You said:

Indeed. And I believe I see this now. You read “give” and hear a matter of intent there.

I think we’re closer to understanding, but no, I don’t read “intent.” I mean, the human writer is an independent agent (not a pawn as Austin recently said in another thread) who makes a decision to write something that contradicts truth, either knowingly and intentionally or unknowingly because he has rejected the truth claims of the Bible and has a different worldview.

God, on the other hand, being the all powerful Sovereign that He is, takes all of what mankind does and uses it for His purposes. It is His work that brings Him glory.

This idea that all stories glorify God reminds me of the argument Paul had to refute that said more sin would bring God more glory. No and no! It isn’t the sin that brings Him glory, or the sinful stories. It is His redemptive power to overcome sin that glorifies Him.

So as I see it, the difference is this: stories that lie about God do not give God glory; God acts (in any number of ways) to use evil for His good purposes, and His acts bring Him glory.

It’s really the subject that I’m challenging. Stories, human endeavors (like Joseph’s brothers kidnapping him, Pharaoh hardening his heart) that are evil are just that–evil. Our responsibility is not to gloss over that fact and say, well, God gave this writer his talent, so let’s read this story knowing that God is glorified because He made this person in His own image with the ability to create.

Stories communicate. And Christians, if we are to understand our culture in light of God’s Word, are to read with an awareness of what those stories are saying.

The Harry Potter haters lost sight of what the books were saying. People who think God ordained story structure will lose sight of what the stories are saying. We need more discernment, not less. I don’t think contemporary Christians are erring on the side of seeing wizards in every story as much as on the side of seeing the One True God in panenthistic stories and believing He is something He is not.

OK, I’ve probably shot my wad with this comment. 😉

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

P.S.: Speaking of anti-God themes in Star Wars, I just happened to find this today.

Finally someone (besides a Christian apologetics artist?) said it:

Paul Lee
Member

This discussion is confusing to me.  I do not know whether or not the difference between something “giving” God glory and God “getting” glory through/over something is important.  I’m not a theologian, and that just confuses me.
Is it okay if I summarize what I think each of the two of you are saying?  I’m not trying to build straw-men of your arguments, and I’m definitely not trying to discredit or mock you.  I’m just trying to understand.
E. Stephen Burnett:  Because God is the Creator and because He brings about His own glory by His sovereignty, all the materials of Story belong to Him.  While it is true that some human stories were deliberately made to slander God — such as His Dark Materials (and Star Wars ??) — God’s glory will still be evident in any story that has any value as a story.  Whether or not we should enjoy even slanderous stories for the glimpses of God that are inevitably present in them is a matter of personal discretion.
Rebecca  LuElla Miller:  On the contrary, everything that is not God’s truth is the Devil’s lies.  Therefore, every story that was not explicitly made to reflect God’s glorious truth is blaspheme or slander.  Because only Christians can tell the truth about God, every story by a non-Christian is automatically slanderous, although some non-Christians are more intentionally slanderous than others.  Through His sovereignty, God still uses even the slanderous work of unbelievers to glorify Himself and lead people to salvation.  However, the fact that God uses the Devil’s lies for good does not mean that we should look to slanderous stories to see reflections of truth.
Did I understand?  I also want to briefly raise an issue from Rebecca’s comment on the other article:

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.

But C.S. Lewis used blatantly Pagan elements in The Chronicles of Narnia.  I think Eastern mysticism could likewise be used to glorify God and to tell a truthful and beautiful story.  I’ve read/watched stories with a prominent pseudo-pantheistic theme that were nonetheless truthful and beautiful in many ways.  Avatar is among the least of them.  Nature is not God, but neither are the Pagan gods that Lewis depicted.  Both Lewis and Tolkien created imaginary universes where the gods of Western Paganism are “true” but are subservient creatures of the One True God.  If God has redeemed Western culture to the point where we can now use the falsehoods that our ancient ancestors believed to tell stories that reflect God’s truth, then we should be able to do the same with Eastern falsehoods.  Jesus is not Western, and God is sovereign over every culture and every false belief system.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Thanks for jumping into the conversation, B.

First, let me say why I think this issue is important. As I see things, discernment is at stake. Stephen has said a number of times that seeing God’s glory in all stories shouldn’t lead to an “it’s all good” attitude, but the truth is, that’s the current trend, even among Christians.

Rather than seeing only how God uses the false to bring glory to Himself, I think it is vital we Christian readers look at stories, compare them to the truth of Scripture, then stand up and say, Look! What that story says is false. It’s when we do this that lies can’t hurt us. Who wants to believe a lie when you know it’s a lie? It’s only when the lie looks like the truth that someone is tempted to believe it.

I can’t speak for Stephen, but I think I haven’t been clear about my position because your restatement of my views isn’t reflective of what I actually believe.

I think the place where your statement diverges is here:

  Therefore, every story that was not explicitly made to reflect God’s glorious truth is blaspheme or slander.

All truth is God’s truth. Because someone doesn’t intentionally set out to show God’s truth doesn’t mean they will not. When we hold a work of fiction up to Scripture and compare, we may find many places that in fact do agree with God’s word. But at the same time we must contrast that work with Scripture and see where it contradicts what God teaches.

So you see, I don’t say that only Christians can tell the truth. There might even be some truth statements about God that non-Christians make. They do, after all, live in the world that He made which reflects His nature.

I’m not sure what your position is regarding Avatar (are you saying it is the least offensive or the least pantheistic?) I happen to think it’s a very good movie to illustrate the point. In no way do I believe it was made to tap into trends. Rather, I believe it was a clear statement of James Cameron’s beliefs. I did a series of blog posts on it (if you’re interested, you can start with “Avatar and Christianity” and follow the links at the bottom.) At one point I compare the movie to poison:

From time to time we have poisonous things in our houses, but we also clearly mark them with the symbol for poison. Poison is only dangerous for improper use if it is easily accessible and unmarked. However, if it is served in a beautiful goblet, flooded by a sweet smelling wine, it may not be detected at all. In such an instance poison becomes deadly.

This quote makes my point. When we say God is glorified in all stories, I believe we are handing readers a goblet of sweet wine filled with poison. Which is more important–to recognize the quality of the wine or the poison it contains?

I also make a case for Avatar promoting idol worship, which is precisely what panenthism is. As I said in one of those posts, it’s as if we’re all standing by watching Solomon build the idol temples his wives desired. We’re saying, Wow, that beautiful stone sure shows God’s glory. Well, yes, but the temple doesn’t! It is an edifice of disobedience, and we need to recognize it as such.

Becky

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Oh, here’s a quote that shows what James Cameron was intending.

Interestingly, writer/director James Cameron put to bed all the questions about the message of Avatar in one of his acceptance speeches (he also received the award for best director):

“Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth.” (from “The Na’vi, the Borg, and the Church”)

Becky

Paul Lee
Member

Oh yeah, one other thing.  I don’t think either George Lucas or James Cameron were intentionally trying to slander God with their movies, not in the same way that Pullman slandered God in His Dark Materials (at least reportedly, I haven’t read it either).  If you can show me a YouTube video in which Lucas or Cameron brags about overthrowing Christianity and brainwashing all the kids in Sunday School, you will prove me wrong. 😉
 
I think the anti-Christian themes in Star Wars and Avatar are due to the creators’ desire to fit in with popular flavor-of-the-month Postmodern morality.  Fashionable environmentalism.  Fashionable feminism.  Fashionable relativism.  Fashionable romantic-love-is-based-on-emotional-infatuation-and-sex-ism.  That kind of thing.
 
Those worldly values are always changing, but God’s values have always been the same.  Despite having worldly themes, I think both Star Wars and Avatar have some more lasting themes.  And I think a lasting theme is a holy theme, because it is only God’s values that endure.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Bainespal, it’s confused me as well (and perhaps Becky also!).

I think you’ve hit on the difference, if indeed there is a difference.

  1. I’ve suggested, Biblically, that God uses man’s sinfully motivated choices for His own good, getting glory over the evil. By contrast, He also redeems people to do things that glorify Him more “directly,” so He may get glory through them. Thus all truth/beauty in the story, anything “redemptive,” is His and not theirs.
  2. Becky has given reminders that if God gets glory is is despite the sinners’ motivations, not because of them.

I’m not sure if she would agree with your translation of her application: “However, the fact that God uses the Devil’s lies for good does not mean that we should look to slanderous stories to see reflections of truth.” The way I’ve read her comments, they mainly offer a caution against equating a story that reflects truth “by accident” to stories that reflect these truths on purpose. God is not glorified in a pagan’s story the way He is through the skillful story of a Christian artist.

Becky, please step in to offer your own clarifications. I may be presuming here! We, after all, have previously agreed that some Christian-speculative fans seem to throw discernment out the door based on a notion of “God speaks everywhere,” which is simply not Biblical and not in alignment with the reading is worship truth.

Some thoughts on the Avatar and Star Wars creators’ possible motives:

Oh yeah, one other thing.  I don’t think either George Lucas or James Cameron were intentionally trying to slander God with their movies, not in the same way that Pullman slandered God in His Dark Materials (at least reportedly, I haven’t read it either).

Here’s how I look at it. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). That’s a good, broad definition. Paul made it when specifically discussing Christians’ personal choices, yet it has applications for all. Another key verse, the oft-quoted Rom. 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So:

  • Without faith, Cameron and Lucas inevitably sin in all they do.
  • Without Christ, Cameron and Lucas personally fall short of God’s glory.

One doesn’t need to consider, say, New-Age conspiracies against these filmmakers. (No one here has made that charge, yet I recall one of my favorite authors, Frank Peretti, making a subtle dig at a Lucas-equivalent near the end of Piercing the Darkness!) One may not even consider whether either director sat in his office, perhaps cracking knuckles as a candle burned before a varnished idol, and said to himself, I shall make a movie to slander God. They don’t need to do that. Rather, based on Biblical truth about man’s sinful nature, slander happens automatically.

I think the anti-Christian themes in Star Wars and Avatar are due to the creators’ desire to fit in with popular flavor-of-the-month Postmodern morality.  Fashionable environmentalism.  Fashionable feminism.  Fashionable relativism.  Fashionable romantic-love-is-based-on-emotional-infatuation-and-sex-ism.  That kind of thing.

Here I would tentatively agree. The same is true of more-innocuous themes that could be taken too far, such as the sickeningly-sweet and -prevalent “just be true to yourself / believe in yourself” pablum, or even the slightly-closer-to-truth-but-still-squishy concept of “everything we know about [perceived enemies] is wrong” (as in How to Train Your Dragon). They’re simply fashionable. Trendy. Thoughtless.

In this I can’t help but think like Screwtape. Demons would much prefer people who simply go along with trends, without thought, without proactivity, merely wanting to fit in and be popular. They make for much tastier morsels, Screwtape says. By contrast, even if, say, a liberal minister spreads wrong beliefs, the devils are threatened if his motivation is not trendiness or peer pressure but true belief. If he really believes it, “that may ruin all,” Screwtape says. He is basing his actions not on distraction and emotionalism, but thought and argument — God’s firm purview.

Based on this, then, it might actually help if more secular storytellers were more passionate about their beliefs — even if false ones. At least they would be more honest. And often we can tell the honest deceived people from the trend-followers.

Those worldly values are always changing, but God’s values have always been the same.  Despite having worldly themes, I think both Star Wars and Avatar have some more lasting themes.  And I think a lasting theme is a holy theme, because it is only God’s values that endure.

Though (again) I haven’t seen Avatar, I would agree. Yet those “lasting themes” should, for certain, be defined according to Scripture, the prime and true Story.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

OK, one point that might help clarify my position. You said, Stephen,

The way I’ve read her comments, they mainly offer a caution against equating a story that reflects truth “by accident” to stories that reflect these truths on purpose.

In truth, my caution is that we should be as diligent in finding what is false as we are in finding what is true. If the emphasis is on giving God glory or worshiping Him in our reading, I don’t think we are as apt to ferret out error. I don’t think we should be looking for His glory as much as His Truth. For one thing, God’s glory isn’t something we have to dig out as if it’s hidden. When He showed up, people fell on their faces.

The same is true of more-innocuous themes that could be taken too far, such as the sickeningly-sweet and -prevalent “just be true to yourself / believe in yourself” pablum, or even the slightly-closer-to-truth-but-still-squishy concept of “everything we know about [perceived enemies] is wrong” (as in How to Train Your Dragon). They’re simply fashionable. Trendy. Thoughtless.

I disagree. I don’t think these are innocuous themes. I think they are honoring the god of this age: self.  (Stephen, you’ve called it Me-ism before). I think these writers know exactly what they’re doing–espousing their own values. (Maybe it’s because I live so close to Hollywood, I get a larger dose of their worldview.)  If a Christian would do this, we would all–Christians and non-Christians alike–slam that work as being preachy. We don’t do this with these neo-mystic works because we don’t recognize them as the pagan propaganda they are.

1 John 5:21 tells us to guard ourselves from idols and Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:14 to flee idolatry. Gideon was instructed to tear down his father’s idols before he went to battle. I think too many of us in the Church today are walking right past the idols our culture has constructed and even thinking they might look good in our own worship center. YIKES! We need to see the lies that come out of stories as lies and call them so. Loudly. Often.

Stephen, the lasting themes of Avatar? From one of my posts on the movie when it came out:

it preaches the panentheistic party line:

  • Nature is One

  • We are one with Nature

  • Therefore, animal life is to be valued as is human life

  • But death is part of the cycle of life

  • God (the Na’vi called her Eywa) doesn’t take sides (in good/evil struggles) but maintains the balance of the universe

When it comes to themes, Avatar is not a good movie.

Becky

 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Time doesn’t permit a fuller response, but maybe it’s only necessary to offer this.

If the emphasis is on giving God glory or worshiping Him in our reading, I don’t think we are as apt to ferret out error.

I’m curious, then.

Is there a way to genuinely “give God glory” without also being aware of error?

Or would this attempt be given away as an imposter, self-defined “glory-giving”?

Part 8 sought to head off this impulse (which is absolutely prevalent among some readers, and which I heartily oppose because it doesn’t align with Scripture):

Let’s say I’m loving a book, and I know that technically my love for this book should glorify God. I might grab for some truths — even individual Biblical truths — as justification. After all, I know that God gets glory from all things, so naturally He is getting glory from this book enjoyment, right? Even if I’m sinning, He’s still getting glory somehow, right?

But here’s the problem: I’ve started with the wrong basis. I’ve started with: The stories I enjoy must be what God also enjoys. I haven’t started with His Story — which tells me more than I could know (or regrettably, often more than I’d like to know!) of what glorifies Him.

I don’t think we should be looking for His glory as much as His Truth.

The two cannot be separated. It is like contrasting God’s holiness with His love, or His mercy with His justice; He is a “simple” being in that all of His attributes are One God. Thus in worshiping God, I should want to worship in spirit and in truth. If I’m defining “worship” apart from God’s truthfulness, His holiness, and the reality of evil, that’s not a true worship, but an imposter. I’m not pleasing Him. And I know of no other motive for pleasing God or aligning with His truth than wanting to worship Him — to “get more” of His radiance according to His Word.

For one thing, God’s glory isn’t something we have to dig out as if it’s hidden. When He showed up, people fell on their faces.

We seem to have a different perspective of “glory,” then.

I’m not speaking of that kind of physical manifestation of His presence. Rather:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

When I gaze to the heavens, or see the beauties of God manifest in, say, an athlete or the music of a stellar composer (such as Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit), it’s not a matter of synthetic “digging out” as it is having a Word-informed, increasingly-sanctified sight of what God has put there.

Rather than being spellbound by the mirror, as if it has some intrinsic light-giving source, I’m also casting about to find the Source of the light.

Or as C.S. Lewis would put it, I’m trying to look along the light beam, and not at it.

Either way, the motive is first worship of God, as He Himself has defined it, and secondly a desire to avoid evil influence. Yet no movie, not even Avatar (which I still have not seen, based on the annoying themes you listed!), can corrupt me any more than I’m already choosing to be corrupted. I could see the film, as you have, and perhaps (in my case) sin in wasting my time, yet also worship God in that.

To reinforce this, I can suggest that you, Becky, are worshiping God and giving God glory by contrasting the film’s lies with the truths of His Word. One need not even discuss the film’s artistic skill, the heavenly landscapes, etc., to see that this can be done!

Similarly, I haven’t been able to read The Shack, because it is not only so full of truth-mixed lies, the worst kind, but simply isn’t an enjoyable read. Yet you, Becky, have not only been able to read the book, but practice discernment to warn others of its truth-mixed lies (again, the worst kind), and so glorify God in that way. (Alas that we need to treat a “Christian” book in the same way we treat secular movies.)

… Which echoes the concept explored above, that even stories whose creators do absolutely mean to slander God or tell lies can still be used by God, and by us His people, to proclaim the truth and worship Him by contrast. The diamond example: a bright light shines all the brighter when contrasted with a darker backdrop.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Hey, Stephen, I’m not sure what you meant by this (who is giving away what and who is the imposter?):

Is there a way to genuinely “give God glory” without also being aware of error?

Or would this attempt be given away as an imposter, self-defined “glory-giving”?

As I understand what you’re saying in general, “error” isn’t significant. God receives glory because He created the person who writes and gifted him with the ability, so regardless of content, God receives glory. What’s more, according to what I hear you saying, even writers who want to dishonor God can’t help but give Him glory because they use the story structure that mirrors God’s own true story.

I don’t agree with either of those points. But even if story structure did always mirror God’s true story, and given that God causes all things to work for good to those who love Him, that does not mean all things edify or glorify.

I’ll go back to the poison in the wine metaphor I used earlier. As I see it, you want Christians to marvel at how great the wine is and I want to tell readers, be sure you know there’s poison mixed in.

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Hey, Stephen, I’m not sure what you meant by this (who is giving away what and who is the imposter?):

Is there a way to genuinely “give God glory” without also being aware of error?

Or would this attempt be given away as an imposter, self-defined “glory-giving”?

Here’s what I meant. If I say, “I think I’ll give God glory today but not worry about discernment,” that’s a fake “glory-giving.” To use my previous example, it’s like giving one’s wife (or husband) a DVD set that you enjoy most. God defines how He gets glory, not us. One doesn’t take the “worship equals giving God glory” truth away from Scripture and then try to come up with a Spiritual System about it.

We would likely agree that we must define and explore this only as Scripture does. God is both beauty and truth; “beauty” without truth is ugly, and “truth” without beauty is deceptive. Both are imposters.

As I understand what you’re saying in general, “error” isn’t significant.

Mm, that’s not what I mean at all, though. Error means much more when it comes from a God-created mind. It is much riskier (the “angel of light” problem). My main point is that as we read (or watch, listen, etc.) worshipfully, that absolutely entails discernment. Yet just as you’ve done, we can worship/glorify God even in drawing attention to error. I merely recall the Biblical truth of “common grace,” that even fallen, depraved man still bears the image of God, the imago Dei, which includes His creativity, and that evil people may give good gifts to their children (Matt. 7:11).

I also draw from the views of mythology that Lewis and Tolkien pioneered, that pagan myths and stories are a mixture of truth and error. Overall, though, they do reflect the darkness and light for which man hopes: the common story structure of a good world can bad and a hero who fights evil in the quest to make things right.

Speculative Faith, I hope, reflects those twin truths: that man’s stories contain good things (and ultimately echo or even “steal from” Scripture), but also much error.

It sounds like you disagree in saying this:

God receives glory because He created the person who writes and gifted him with the ability, so regardless of content, God receives glory. What’s more, according to what I hear you saying, even writers who want to dishonor God can’t help but give Him glory because they use the story structure that mirrors God’s own true story.

I don’t agree with either of those points.

My questions, then, would be like this:

  1. Do you read “God receives glory” to mean that this somehow overrules the evil in man’s meaningful choice? Or do you read “He gets the same glory either way, so it’s all good”? (I don’t believe that’s what I’ve implied.)
  2. Do you believe the story of, say, the Harry Potter series (presuming here that the books are written by a non-Christian) glorifies God at least in some way?
  3. If not, from who/what did Rowling get the hero-saves-world story frame?

 

I’ll go back to the poison in the wine metaphor I used earlier. As I see it, you want Christians to marvel at how great the wine is and I want to tell readers, be sure you know there’s poison mixed in.

Worshipfully-reading Christians do both, don’t they?

The Bible is the wine filter. Relying on that Story helps us see the good and bad in culture and culture’s stories. We can thus read a secular novel (such as a Harry Potter book) and see the Biblical virtues and even hero-myth reflected there. Or we can see a more-thoroughly pagan movie like Avatar and caution others about it.

Again, your discernment about Avatar glorified God to me by contrast.

Yes, the movie may be lovely, and show some imago Dei reflections there, but to me, anyway, that would make the poison more sickly-sweet. I simply don’t want to make my own “rule” the same for all Christians. Maybe another discerning Avatar  fan filtered out the garbage more easily. (As I like to say, t only takes one such Christian to call into question any “you can’t do that and be honoring God” claims!)

I also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to non-believers pining for a concept of beautiful paradise after seeing that movie. Remember the post-Avatar news stories about moviegoers who grew depressed because that beautiful world didn’t exist? As a Christian, I would see that as a prime Acts 17:24 moment. Depressed moviegoer, take heart. This kind of beauty does exist, and will exist, and worlds better than any computer graphics. But you can’t have it without knowing/loving the Source. This unknown God to whom you built an altar, He is Whom I proclaim to you, the true Hero of all truth and beauty.

In short: glorifying God can’t be done without truth discernment. “Worship” apart from knowing this is counterfeit, self-interested “worship.” “Beauty” apart from truth is ugliness; “truth” apart from beauty is deceptive. And God sovereignly gains glory over or through man’s meaningful choices as man imitates Him, even in sin.

Addendum: Similar points happen to be made in this recently posted column from Asia missionary Will Bankston. In particular he notes the grace-echoes amidst non-Christian cultures, which the discerning Christian may use. First he describes how a non-Christian friend, at personal cost, helped him in a crisis, and refused thanks.

I’ve seen this play out again and again, receiving a level of help from friends that I have rarely, if ever, matched. Suffice to say, this service, saturated deep within cultural conventions, challenged me. It seemed to combat what I knew about human nature, a depravity diagnosed by the gospel itself. But in the end, this struggle led me to glorify Christ.

That is, it forced me to expand my view of Christ. It made me recognize his work outside of the church, a work that had certainly affected this culture. As Colossians 1:16-17 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So I realized that Christ is not only the mediator between God and his elect, but also the mediator between God and all of creation. Being the creator, sustainer, and even the purpose of the universe, all peoples of all cultures owe their existence to his will and work. For me, this recognition of Christ’s creationally comprehensive mediation was the first step in practically understanding his common grace, which both restrains the curse of sin and also allows for a kind of cultural flourishing among all peoples. As for proof of its effects, the fact that humanity has not fallen into complete degeneracy is evidence enough.

What’s more, this mediation means that the praise for any praiseworthy action ultimately belongs to Christ alone. As Calvin wrote in The Institutes, “these virtues, whatever they may be, or rather images of virtue, are the gift of God; since there is nothing in any respect laudable which does not proceed from him.” This is encouraging truth indeed as we engage any and all cultures, prompting us to praise him for things around us that we might otherwise ignore. Personally, it has proved immeasurably helpful to my own worship to be able to glorify Christ’s work in the culture in which I serve, even if it is largely ignorant of him. And so I have the freedom and privilege to thank Christ for my friend’s sacrificial service.

trackback

[…] For God’s people, stories show us darkness and light — and not only in black and white, but a glorious spectrum of color. God did not need to give us things like color, amazing animals, and stories. But He […]