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Reading Is Worship 9: Spectrum Of Glories

All this talk of God’s glory, and enjoying fantastic stories for His glory. Yet what is His glory? How do we often imagine it as shades of white when it’s really a dazzling rainbow?

All this talk of God’s glory, and enjoying fantastic stories for His glory. Yet what is His glory?

So far in this series we’ve overviewed idolatrous “worship” through reading, then begun exploring worship of God. Stories are more than “just stories,” and that does not detract from their worth, but adds to their wonder. Furthermore, all stories are based in Scripture.

Those last statements have brought some questions. All stories, really? Or do we suspect that only certain things, such as evangelical “devotionals,” glorify God more than others?

That made me realize something new. Until recently, I had been thinking of glory/worship as simple light vs. darkness. Yet it’s essential to see the Scriptural color spectrum that God uses to glorify Himself. That in turn informs how we worship Him through enjoying stories.

Seeing His glory

Scripture constantly compares God’s glory to light. John 1 says Christ was the light, evoking God’s first command in Genesis 1, and adds “we have seen His glory” (John 1:14). Look for photos online relating to “God’s glory”; you’ll find most reflect this comparison: pictures of sunrises, sunshine sparkling on the water. One ministry also uses seeing-related terms to explore His glory: shine, visible, radiance. In all the Story’s stories, God reveals His glory in light and means of light. A burning bush. A pillar of fire. Tongues of fire on people’s heads.

By contrast, literally, darkness is seen as a metaphor for God’s glory not being shown. By derivative, it is symbolic of evil. God called His people “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Such symbols hold true all the way to the Story’s finale in Revelation.

These images also reflect in our fiction. I don’t know of a story in which light represents evil and dark represents goodness, do you? (Unless a villain is disguised as an “angel of light.”)

Yet I have recently wondered if “light versus darkness” tends to appear simplistically in our imaginations. I’m not referring here to postmodernism or relativism (much less anything “race”-related) when I say that too often we think of goodness and evil as black and white. Think of it: when goodness conquers evil, which colors do we see or imagine? Inevitably white light shines and splits apart the black shadow. Only primary colors: black and white.

More often, we need to think of worship and God’s glory in living color, just as He created it. And just as we are meant to reflect His glory in all that we do, including in our stories.

Shades of white or dazzling rainbows?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

What of our light, which reflects His Source? Do we often treat it as if we flip it “on” or “off” based on our heart motives or outward behavior? I doubt that, actually. Instead we may have in mind the image of a dimmer switch. His power flows through us, and though He is working in us, we also work to be like Him (Phil. 2: 12-13). Our worship brightens and dims. So does the light level of our creative pursuits, whether enjoying or creating stories.

Based on this view, we might ask about a story: is its glory-reflection high or low?

Consider Philip Pullman’s infamous His Dark Materials series. You could say its light is dim because of its author’s intent to slander God. But it’s not completely dark; after all, Pullman calls some things good and some bad, while using raw “materials” that God created.

Or consider a Christian author’s fantasy novel that’s written with skill in both theme and craft. Does such a story reflect God’s glory more brightly — a kind of “direct” glorification?

In either case, readers may be opening their eyes wider to see more of the story’s latent glory-reflections. Or they may be shutting their eyes to avoid seeing it (likely before going onto book-review websites to offer the indignant reaction: Eww, that was a Christian book).

The light shines, higher or lower, and may be unseen by perception. A dimmer switch.

Yet God made color. Especially this time of year, our eyes likely open wider to behold it! Whole sermons could be preached on the fact that God could have created trees so that in the fall their leaves would fade directly from greens to browns and grays. Those duller shades do come later, yet first comes the transformation: an absolutely breathtaking array of colors. Fiery reds, crisp oranges, golden yellows. Seeing these alone can be worship.

Thus in that sense, His glory-light is not simply white contrasted with a black background. It’s in color. A living, dazzling spectrum. Do rainbows come to mind? They came to His first:

“I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Genesis 9:13

Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Ezekiel 1:28

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

Revelation 4:2-3

God’s glory is a rainbow. A spectrum of color. And in some ways, this metaphor helps us much more when considering how we worship. We don’t simply raise or lower a single light-shade of glory, nor do we “worship” in ways that we define (which could include darkness). Rather, He has created the diverse array of colors we use to reflect His glory and thereby worship Him. We cannot create a new color that did not exist. Yet we can mix, raise or lower, or avert or open our eyes wider in response, to all these colors.

Next we’ll consider the similarly diverse array of artworks and stories that glorify Him — not simply by showing light and dark contrasted and light winning, but by showing colors.

What are your favorite glory “colors”? How do those affect your favorite arts and stories?

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PaulC
Guest

The light shines, higher or lower, and may be unseen by perception. A dimmer switch.

I just have to say that I loved this metaphor; the idea that God’s glory is there, its brightness just depends on the author and the reader.

We don’t simply raise or lower a single light-shade of glory, nor do we “worship” in ways that we define (which could include darkness). Rather, He has created the diverse array of colors we use to reflect His glory and thereby worship Him.

On a concrete level, specifically in the contexts of books, what would these ‘colors’ of glory compare to? The difference between Brandon Sanderson’s unintentional reflections of God’s epic story, and Tolkien’s deliberate reflection of God’s story? Or more tones of the story, such as the glory reflected in a tale of epic war between light and darkness, and the glory reflected in a romance reflecting – intentionally or not – Christ’s love for His people, and the glory of a tale paralleling the rescue of us by Christ?

Also, slightly tangential: I often find it fascinating how God’s glory being like a rainbow can be seen in the fact that every follower of Christ reflects Him in a slightly different way; I tend to reflect His truth and discernment, while my sister reflects His compassion and mercy, while one of my friends reflects His joy and encouragement, another His servanthood, and so on. It’s why each member of the Body of Christ is indispensable; because with any one of them missing, we would be missing aspects of the full spectrum of God’s glory.

 

D. M. Dutcher
Member

The rainbow metaphor is pretty cool. It reminds me too of Genesis, in which the rainbow is given as a sign that God would never again destroy the world by flood. If you keep your idea of glory as color, it could be a sign that God limits the purity of his glory-the white light prism’d into color-in the same way He does His earthly judgment. Making it something the human race can bear in the same way we’d be overwhelmed by pure white light.

Maybe works of art do this too. It’s simply not possible for limited human intellect and perception to fully describe the glory of God, even reflected in the world. So each instead tends to have its own “color” as, like PaulC says, different people reflect the white light into their own particular colors as they follow Him. In the same way objects all reflect certain wavelengths of light and have colors.

Good post. 

Galadriel
Guest

That is a brilliant metaphor. I love all the possibilities of it.

Austin Gunderson
Member

Light has temperature.  The cooler the light source (say 3,000 Kelvin), the warmer its light will appear to human eyes, and vice-versa.  This is because the light emitted by a cool light-source has a longer wavelength than that emitted by a warm light-source.  Thus the range of color across the visible spectrum.

One of the most fundamental considerations in the art of photography is white-balance.  When I fling open the door of a windowless, lamplit room and emerge under the open sky, I’m not generally greeted by a world washed with shades of blue, even though I’ve just made a transition from the cool light of tungsten bulbs to the hottest light in our immediate galactic vicinity: the sun.  This seamlessness is possible only because my eyes are very fast on the uptake.  A camera set to ‘manual,’ on the other hand, must be told how to interpret the light that enters its iris.  Unless it’s reset to interpret the higher color temperature as ‘white,’ the tableaus it captures will seem as though they might’ve unfolded at the bottom of an exceptionally clear lake.

So it sometimes is with us.  How easy it can be to start thinking of the way in which I’m accustomed to glorify God as the very best among alternatives.  So acclimatized am I to my personal culture and routine that any deviation therefrom seems … well, weird.  Like failing to white-balance when entering a new light-environment.

“But God doesn’t contradict Himself!” you may protest, “And He’s the only Light I acknowledge!”  Very good.  But what one may not realize about light, many, it seems to me, don’t realize about God.  There’s far more to either of them than our limited perception would indicate.

God finds pleasure in variety.  Just look at His creation.  Why fashion millions upon millions of living creatures as different from one another as … well, similes fail me.  The same question can be posed of any given range of values in the universe – from the infinitesimal variations between subatomic particles to the color temperature of the stars.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:40-41, “there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”  Only with the aid of modern telescopes have we been able to fully understand that statement.  But the irrepressible creativity of God continues to surpasses knowledge.  Which is why it’s so tragic when, for the sake of our egos, we attempt to cram Him into a teeny-tiny box of our own devising.

As PaulC has pointed out about the Body of Christ, God bestows an entire spectrum of gifts, talents, and predilections upon His children.  For to some He’s granted to write Bible-studies and devotionals, to others He’s granted to craft historical romances, and to still others He’s granted to conjure epic fantasies.  When we act as though God should’ve made everyone like us (whoever we be), we forget that, just as white light hides the rainbow, Christ’s Body on earth comprises many members.

In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis – through Ransom – theorizes that “there was, no doubt, a confusion of persons in damnation: what Pantheists falsely hoped of Heaven bad men really received in Hell.  They were melted down into their Master, as a lead soldier slips down and loses his shape in the ladle held over the gas ring.  The question whether Satan, or one whom Satan has digested, is acting on any given occasion, has in the long run no clear significance.”  Our discrete identities and variances of personality are – far from being results of the Fall, as some seem to believe – bequeathed by our Maker for the sake of His pleasure.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord Who is the Spirit.”  (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18)

God open my eyes to the spectrum of Your glory. 

Esther
Guest

Note: Black and white are not technically primary colors. They are achromatic colors.
Without light, color cannot be seen at all, as color is by definition a reflection of light. This adds to your metaphor in interesting and deliciously ponderable ways, imho.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Interesting post, Stephen, and I agree that the metaphor of light is apropos, but I’ll admit I’m in the “All stories, really?” camp.

Think for a moment about Moses up on the mountain communicating with God while Aaron with the people of Israel fashioned a golden calf used for idolatrous activities. Aaron was God’s man, but he was not glorifying God with his God-given abilities. The people were God’s people, and they disobeyed Him (repeatedly, I might add), which certainly was not glorifying to Him. Just the opposite.

Writing is no different. People made in God’s image and gifted by God in what you refer to as “common grace” still sin, defame God, and reject Him with those same gifts. I don’t believe Phillip Pullman was glorifying God in his anti-God stories. No more than Satan was by taking on the form of one of God’s creatures to tempt Eve.

There really is right and wrong, and wrong does not glorify God. Even in a story.

One of the wonderful things about God is that He takes what is broken–what is not glorifying Him–and renews it, molds it, uses it. This is so important, so hopeful. I see no hope in saying that whatever mankind manages, even with evil intent, God receives glory.

The only way that happens is by what HE does with it–bringing judgment or redemption–not by what we do, good, bad, or indifferent.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood you, but in using Phillip Pullman as an example, it seems as if you are saying all is in the light, just some dim. I don’t believe that. I believe, as Paul said in Colossians that we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness. Sadly, some still labor in the dominion of darkness, and the fruit of their labors is also darkness. That’s what I believe Scripture teaches.

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

More later, but I thought of a comparison based on this:

In using Phillip Pullman as an example, it seems as if you are saying all is in the light, just some dim.

Here I am thinking of Pullman like a 16-year-old guy, screaming at his parents about their rules and demanding he be allowed to do what he want with whoever he wants, anytime he wants, and denying their love for him — while standing in “his” room in their house, his back to the bed they bought, his room full of the things for which they paid, having eaten their food and benefited from the education they provided, and of course having not even gained the right to exist without them.

Pullman plays in God’s world with God’s “toys.” Therefore there will be a little bit of light evident in the work, if it is well-written (and by all accounts it is at least that). I think Christians can acknowledge this and credit God for that, while also condemning the sinner for his abject rebellion and “total depravity.” Both “total depravity” and “common grace,” thanks to the imago Dei, exist in God’s world.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I think part of the difficulty that arises whenever I take it upon myself to label a work of art as either “God-glorifying” or “non-God-glorifying” – especially a work of art as multifaceted as a full-length novel – is due to my default desire to judge the work as a whole rather than to dissect it and evaluate its constituent elements on a case-by-case basis.  This, in turn, is due both to the high esteem in which I hold my own judgement and to the natural aversion I hold toward tedious work.  Yet precision is the better part of discernment.

It’s true that novels such as the His Dark Materials series (which I haven’t read) may contain a preponderance of darkness, and may thus – on the whole – influence the world for evil.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that such novels contain no light at all, or that they don’t deserve at least some degree of appreciation.  Indeed, a novel which contained nothing but lies and perversions wouldn’t inspire much concern in me, unless that concern would be for its author: lies slip through the gate of the mind most easily by first mingling with a crowd of truths.

Novels are rarely – if ever! – wholly good or wholly evil.  They’re usually a mix, with the best ones containing the highest proportions of thematic truths and stylistic graces.  Though many novels may be so evil that it’s simply not worth the effort for a believer to parse them (I’m thinking of A Song of Ice and Fire at the moment), that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of all light.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that such novels contain no light at all, or that they don’t deserve at least some degree of appreciation.

Austin, I certainly agree with this, and with the point that novels are a mix of good and bad. I mean, do any of us have perfect theology and flawless fiction techniques? Even if we are expressing a Biblical truth, we may do so in a way that diminishes it rather than enhances it.

And yet, I don’t think that means all novels are therefore equal, glorifying God on a sliding scale. Actually some are prompted by Satan as surely as Pharaoh’s magicians used evil power to mimic that of Moses provided by God.

There isn’t a duality–a war between two equal forces–but there is a war and it’s between two opposite forces. Satan’s dominion is darkness, the very dominion from which God rescued us, Paul says in Colossians. Anyone playing on Satan’s team is not glorifying God.

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

That reasoning is, it seems to me, self-contradictory.  If there’s no such thing as a novel that’s 100% flawless this side of Heaven, how can there be a novel that’s 100% evil this side of Hell?  Novels that’re 99.99% evil, I’ll grant you.  But a novel that bears zero resemblance whatsoever to any degree of truth in any form … that’d be a novel written by an author over whose mind the Lord God Almighty had absolutely no influence.  Satan would’ve had to have escaped God’s supervision.  And I don’t believe such a thing is possible.

The assertion that it’s possible for Satan to create something ex nihilo assumes a cosmic duality between equal-and-opposite forces.  But we know that God is the sole Creator and that Satan is but a creature who must ask permission before he acts (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7) and who has not the capacity to make anything new: each and every one of Satan’s devices have been cobbled together from God’s raw materials. Perversion is just that: a twisting of preexistent perfection.  Though Satan likes to pretend he’s a god who can make things on his own, it’s quite impossible in this life to escape the all-pervasive influence of the God Who sits enthroned.  We may run as far as our legs can carry us, but, as Jonah discovered in the depths of the sea, God will have been there since before our arrival.  “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”  (Psalm 139:11-12)  And no wonder, for God says “I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, Who does all these things.”  (Isaiah 45:6-7)

When we consider the example of Pharaoh’s magicians as individuals “prompted by Satan,” we find that God was working through their opposition as surely as through Moses’ obedience.  “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.’  So then [God] has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”  (Romans 9:17-18)  And how did God harden Pharaoh if not through those very same magicians “prompted by Satan”?  Though Satan intended their actions for evil, and though they intended their own actions for evil, they all ended up as pawns of the Ultimate Author.  So we see that “all things” indeed “work together for good, for those who are called according to [God’s] purpose.”  (Romans 8:28)  No matter whose team one plays on, God ends up glorified when all’s said and done.  That’s why I believe it’s impossible for any thing in creation – including a work of art – to reflect absolutely no truth whatsoever.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Austin, I think the point we’re disagreeing on is the idea that a story with “99.99% evil” is glorifying God.

Here’s the thing. Stories that lie about God are evil. But because they are lies, there is some evidence of the truth, if in nothing other than the creativity with which they have been made. But they are still lies.

The Lion King comes to mind. Cute movie, fun, entertaining, and completely devoid of truth about the way the world works. (OK, “completely devoid” shows how much I think that movie collides with the truth of Scripture. I’m sure someone could find a shred of truth in there somewhere, put it’s not in “Hakuna matata” or in worshiping ancestors or in Zen meditation or in finding the power within–those things are lies that clash with God’s truth).

Can someone see that movie and think it is glorifying to God? That’s a horrific thought! Does it have things about it which a viewer can admire? Absolutely.

I, as a Christian, know that God Himself is the Giver of the good gifts that allowed the writers, artists, performers, and technicians to bring that movie into being. But He being the source does not sanctify a work that spit in His face. It is still rejection of Him, a denial of who He is, an inculcation of others with false beliefs.

I don’t think that qualifies as a story glorifying God.

Does that mean there is no possibility that God can use it? Of course not. He is God. The stories filled with lies cannot blot out the Truth. God is stronger and full of grace. He will not let His witness fade into oblivion–even if it is the stones that must cry out.

Turning the corner, I wanted to clarify that I never said Satan could create anything. He does have power, though, and he uses it against us–to deceive and to destroy. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. In fact, he would love to deceive us into thinking evil is good.

This is why I think it’s worth making a distinction between stories that glorify God because they are consistent with His word and ones that lie about Him and His work and way.

Though Satan intended their actions for evil, and though they intended their own actions for evil, they all ended up as pawns of the Ultimate Author.

I certainly do not believe we or they are pawns. God created us in His image, and He is no one’s pawn.

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

The Lion King is an excellent case study through which we can contrast our approaches to storytelling.  You’ve pointed out various perceived untruths present in the film’s content (“hakuna matata,” ancestor worship, “Zen meditation,” “finding the power within”), but I find the story – on the whole – to be a powerful testament to the capacity of non-Christian storytellers to illustrate Scriptural truths.

Brace yourself for “horrific” thoughts!  😉

First, let’s climb to 30,000 feet and examine the overall structure of the narrative [SPOILER ALERT!]:

Act I:  Simba is a spoiled princeling who takes his prestige for granted.  His father Mufasa is a wise and just ruler, but his bitter uncle Scar schemes to take the throne.  One day, Scar’s minions incite a herd of wildebeests to stampede down a gorge in which Simba loiters.  Mufasa courageously bears his son to safety before being cast into a churning maelstrom of hooves by his treacherous brother.  Scar blames Simba for Mufasa’s death, touching off a complex of false guilt which will steer the course of the young prince’s life as he flees into exile.

Act II:  Timon and Pumba, a couple of carefree jungle deadbeats, find Simba starving in the desert and nurse him back to health.  They inculcate in him their guiding philosophy: “hakuna matata” (“no worries”).  And thus, surrounded by a plentiful food supply which makes for easy living, he matures into a full-grown lion.  But then a stranger arrives to upend his complacency: Nala, a beautiful lioness he knew as a cub.  She tells him of the devastation wrought by Scar’s tyrannical rule, and challenges him to return and claim his birthright.  Simba, oppressed by false guilt and enamored of false comfort, refuses.  But then he meets Rafiki, a wise old mystic who leads him into the jungle, where a heavenly vision of Mufasa adjures Simba to remember who he is.  Simba makes a decision: he will return to claim his throne.

Act III:  When Simba returns home, he finds a barren wasteland.  The usurper Scar, though unable to hide his astonishment that the rightful prince yet lives, moves immediately to undermine Simba’s moral high ground by publicly accusing him of Mufasa’s murder.  As Scar is about to carry out Simba’s execution, he whispers the truth to his victim: he killed Mufasa.  Simba explodes with righteous rage, beating back Scar and leading his pride of lions to victory over his uncle’s minions.  The land enjoys peace under the reign of its rightful king.

Now that we’ve reviewed the story’s outline, let’s examine its central themes.  First and foremost is the idea that one should never flee responsibility.  While Simba wallows in blissfully ignorant idleness during the second act, the villain consolidates his power and oppresses the kingdom.  Only when Simba embraces his duty as heir to the throne does the defeat of darkness commence.  You list “hakuna matata” as an evil element in the film, but this indicates a profound misunderstanding of its thematic purpose.  The Lion King is a complex story, and by that I mean it’s not afraid to present destructive ideas in a positive light in order to ultimately subvert them.  Since the real world invariably presents temptations to us in a positive light, stories which cloak dangerous ideas in fair guises are far, far more realistic than stories which feel compelled to slap an obnoxious warning sticker on each and every falsehood encountered by the audience.  The Lion King’s refusal to do so is what makes Simba’s hero’s journey so powerful.  Though he tries to drown his conscience in food and drink and merriment, it’s only when he stands up to confront his responsibility that he’s able to find peace.  It’s only possible to interpret “hakuna matata” as a thematic message of The Lion King if one extracts Act II from its larger context and appraises it in isolation.

Another prominent theme evident in the film is the idea that false guilt constitutes a debilitating burden.  The reason it takes Simba so long to step up and accept responsibility for the kingdom is because Scar has cleverly sapped his will to resist through manipulative accusation.  As a Christian, I can’t help comparing Scar to Satan.  It’s not for naught the devil’s called the Accuser, for he “accuses [the brothers] day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10), seeking to psychologically nullify the complete atonement accomplished by Christ on our behalf.  I’m convinced that few things please Satan so much as cowing Christians with the weight of guilt for which Christ has already paid, not unlike Scar’s traumatization of a newly-orphaned cub too young to realize it’s all a lie crafted to sweep him out of the usurper’s way.

A third theme, tied closely to the first, is the idea that destiny is irrevocable.  Now I’ll admit that this one gets a little dicey – it’s probably this message that gave you the impression that the film advocates ancestor worship or “finding the power within.”  When Rafiki tells an adult Simba that [Mufasa’s] alive … he lives in you,” it sounds like he’s peddling some kind of cheap reincarnation claptrap.  But what happens next turns that notion on its head.  A vision of Mufasa forms in the heavens – very much an external apparition, visible to both Simba and Rafiki – and proceeds to speak powerful truths directly into Simba’s life.  “Remember who you are,” says Mufasa, “You are my son, and the one true king.  Remember …”  I get chills every time I watch this scene.  Nothing else in all of cinema recalls so instantly to my mind the booming Voice of God which declared, as Jesus ascended from the Jordan, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 17:5)  Note that Mufasa doesn’t say “You are me; I live in you.”  Instead, he reminds Simba of his irreplaceably unique identity and of the destiny only he can fulfill.  In saying “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me,” Mufasa asserts that Simba cannot honor his father if he scorns the mantle of responsibility his father’s bequeathed to him.  Call that “ancestor worship” if you like, but it seems like straightforward truth to me, especially if one assumes Mufasa to be analogous to God.

Do I seem to be nitpicking?  I’m not.  I’m demonstrating that even The Lion King, a story you’ve summarily dismissed as “devoid of truth about the way the world works,” is bursting with Biblical truths and beauties for those with eyes to see.  Does Rafiki strike a yoga pose at one point before mystically realizing that Simba’s still alive?  Sure.  Would it have altered a single theme in the film had Rafiki received that revelation whilst kneeling before a little cross hung in his baobab tree?  Not in the slightest.  The themes of any given story are far more important than its specific content.  This is why Christians can embrace The Lord of the Rings despite its glorification of a wizard who casts spells with a staff: its central thematic gist (the weapons of the Enemy cannot be used against him) is profoundly true.  So it is with The Lion King.

And that’s why we must be very wary of condemning any given story as altogether evil.  Though many stories may contain a preponderance of falsehoods, Truth proves inescapably – almost sneakily – pervasive.  When Paul entered the citadel of paganism in the ancient world – the Areopagus of Athens – did he sweepingly decry the Hellenistic pantheon as a complete and total abomination utterly devoid of truth?  No, he did not.  Instead, he searched for glimmers of truth.  “Men of Athens,” he said, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’  What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”  (Acts 17:22-23)  Even in the midst of absolute idolatry, God had not left Himself without witness.  And that witness proved to be Paul’s ‘in.’  Likewise let us hone our sensitivity to those truths which glimmer among the lies of contemporary culture.

As for the question of whether we’re pawns in the hands of the Master Storyteller, that’s a direct, one-way ticket to a massive predestination debate, which I’d prefer to avoid, if possible.  The one thing I’ll say in response to your challenge is that the mere fact that God created us in His own image doesn’t mean that we share in all of His characteristics.  We’ll never partake of His omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence, for instance.  Those are attributes of God which obviously weren’t imparted to us as part of His image.  Therefore, one can’t say that God’s free will is necessarily part of His image, either.  It’s possible to make a case for human free will from the standpoint of human logic, but not from the standpoint of Scripture, because Scripture never once explicitly asserts that humans possess free will.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Nice summary of The Lion King, Austin.

The thing is, you are bringing your Christian worldview to the story, and it is your worldview that glorifies God, not the story.

For example, you see Mustafa as a God figure, but nowhere in Scripture does God die to save His Son. You simply choose to overlook the “humanness” of this character because you want to fit the story into a Biblical framework.

If you’re familiar with the tenets of “New Age” thinking under which this was written (actually a watered down Hinduism), you’d recognize the ancestor worship–his defied father speaking to him post-death, from the stars.

And how did he arrive at this enlightenment? Through the wisdom of the meditating guru. He was in a Zen position for a purpose. It communicates the worldview of the makers of the movie, whether you choose to overlook it or not.

Your analysis of theme is interesting, but as I recall (it’s been a long time), the movie ends with a celebration of the new king and they’re all singing “Hakuna Matata.” Rather than contradicting this life of “whatever,” it is celebrating it and establishing it will all those now under his rule.

So obviously, we’re not going to agree on this movie. I think you’re forcing your worldview onto a story that purposefully embraces a worldview that is antithetical to all the Bible teaches. I think it is discerning to recognize what the rest of society sees and will understand when they view this movie. I think it is wise to say, Look at that false teaching. That contradicts the Bible.

It seems apparent to me that you’ve not read much of what I’ve written here at Spec Faith. I am not in any way advocating the idea that we should ban certain stories. Rather, I think we should teach people to hold up stories to Scripture and see where they agree or disagree, not on the externals, as you say. The Lion King is not dangerous because a character sat in a Lotus position. It is “dangerous” because it advocates an untrue way of looking at the world–Jesus Christ is absent while elements of New Age philosophy abound.

Discernment requires us to call a spade a spade. It is not discerning to call a spade a shovel when it clearly is not one. That’s what you’ve done by assigning Mustafa the equivalence of Aslan. At the same time, I don’t think you or anyone else should take my word for it. I think each one of us should hold stories up and examine them in light of the truth about God revealed in His Word. I think it’s fine–even helpful–for me to say, did you see the New Age symbolism in that movie? I don’t think it’s fine or helpful for me to say, That movie has New Age philosophy; don’t go see it.

Though many stories may contain a preponderance of falsehoods, Truth proves inescapably – almost sneakily – pervasive.

I think I said this in one of my comments yesterday (and repeating myself is a sign I need to be done with this discussion–apparently I have nothing new to offer)–Truth will come out because it is Truth. A story can lie about God, but it is still a lie. That the lie can’t cover up all Truth should not be a credit to the story but a credit to God’s power to overcome lies. The stories that lie about Him should still be identified as lies, not praised as somehow glorifying Him.

I, like you, am not willing to debate free will. I agree that God’s incommunicable qualities separate us from Him. But since He gave Adam dominion over the earth and the assignment to name the animals, it’s apparent Mankind contains in this image God gave us, something of His decision making, His choosing, ie, a will free of His dictating.

If you care to respond to that, Austin, I’ll give you the last word–otherwise we’ll have the discussion we both said we didn’t want. 🙂

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

Becky,

I never intended to insinuate that The Lion King was the best thing since The Lord of the Rings.  I’m fully conscious of the fact that it contains a few falsehoods – some of which have undoubtedly proven dangerous to lost and ignorant viewers (one of those themes being the quasi-pantheistic “circle of life” concept, although, since it holds but small sway over the larger narrative and is mainly communicated didactically, I don’t consider it nearly as influential as the truthful themes I’ve delineated).  I know the film is, to use Stephen’s phrase, “a mixed bag.”  The reason I’ve chosen to focus on the story’s thematic truths is because you’d stated, with absolute certainty, that The Lion King was “completely devoid of truth about the way the world works.”  To disprove that statement, I had only to produce a single example of a truthful theme advanced by the film.  I produced not just one, but three examples, and, in so doing, demonstrated the danger of judging a given story as a whole, rather than judging discrete elements within that story separately.

Also, “hakuna matata” is not sung by anyone at the conclusion of The Lion King.  You can confirm this yourself by watching the final ten minutes here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dadyuoc_jkM.  Far from ending with a celebration of a “life of ‘whatever’,” the film absolutely repudiates Timon and Pumba’s approach to life.  Not only do they choose to return with Simba to reconquer Pride Rock (putting their lives at risk for the sake of others), they’re present at the blessing of Simba’s new son in the film’s final scene, which indicates their willingness to take up the mantle of responsibility for the continuance of civilization.  In the preferred language of the Disney storytellers, “the circle is complete.”  The rebellious young generation, personified by Simba and friends, has perceived the error of its ways and risen up from lethargy to shoulder the duties of adults.

Finally, I’d like to stress that none of this thematic analysis is me “forcing [my] worldview onto a story that purposefully embraces a worldview that is antithetical to all the Bible teaches.”  Just read the dissection of The Lion King‘s plot conducted by Christopher Vogler in his excellent book The Writer’s Journey.  He, though an emphatic non-Christian, walks away with similar – if not identical (I don’t have the book on hand at the moment) – conclusions.  The truthful themes I’ve identified in The Lion King aren’t the wishful fantasies of a Christian film critic starved for Hollywood endorsement of his beliefs; rather, they’re messages which enjoy universal resonance and which I can enjoy even when the storytellers who propagate them fail to realize they’re simply echoing Scripture.

-Austin 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Hey, Austin, as this discussion winds down, I wanted to thank you for the time you put into your thoughtful responses. Also, I hope you stick around and interact here at Spec Faith more often.

Just to clarify one point. Perhaps because we haven’t been in discussions like this together before, you apparently overlooked the qualifier I wrote:

The Lion King comes to mind. Cute movie, fun, entertaining, and completely devoid of truth about the way the world works. (OK, “completely devoid” shows how much I think that movie collides with the truth of Scripture. I’m sure someone could find a shred of truth in there somewhere … (emphasis added in this quote)

You see, I don’t think “live a responsible life” works when a call  for such moral behavior comes from immoral sources. I’ll say again, the credit is to God for forming your worldview so that you saw Mustafa as a God figure. That is not consistent with the text, but if God used that to teach you something about His nature, praise His name. I do not, however, concede that the work itself glorified Him. More glory to Him for taking something evil and using it for good. This He has a habit of doing. 😉

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

Becky,

Well, I appreciate your willingness to hash out this issue with me, and I acknowledge the fact that you’d qualified your original Lion King statement (though somewhat tepidly).  ;-p

Though I firmly believe that truth is truth regardless of either the source through which it’s relayed or the intent of that source in relaying it (Philippians 1:17-18), I admit that we’ll have to agree to disagree about this particular topic.  I, like you, am beginning to think the horse is quite thoroughly pulverized.

I would, however, encourage you to check out The Writer’s Journey, that book I mentioned earlier.  It’s quite relevant to this whole discussion, actually.  Allow me to quote briefly from its preface (now that I have it in hand), in which the author considers that particular story structure he’ll go on to analyze throughout the duration of his book:

“The Hero’s Journey is not an invention, but an observation.  It is a recognition of a beautiful design, a set of principles that govern the conduct of life and the world of storytelling the way physics and chemistry govern the physical world.  It’s difficult to avoid the sensation that the Hero’s Journey exists somewhere, somehow, as an eternal reality, a Platonic ideal form, a divine model.  From this model, infinite and highly varied copies can be produced, each resonating with the essential spirit of the form.”  (emphasis mine)

I think this is the idea Stephen Burnett’s getting at when he says “all stories are based in Scripture” (a phrasing I find unnecessarily distracting, yet essentially true).  Regardless, I’m certain you and I shall live to cross intellectual blades over this issue in the future.

Till then,

-Austin

Austin Gunderson
Member

Also, I’d contest the idea that all stories are equal as long as they exist on the same sliding scale.  I postulate that there is only one scale, and that equality between two stories – in the sense of their ‘glorification quotient’ – is only achieved when they both show up at the same point on that scale.  Thus, if I say that Out of the Silent Planet reflects more truth than The Golden Compass (i.e. that it’s much farther advanced on the sliding scale), I’m by no means insinuating that those two works are equal in value, even though I’m evaluating them by the same universal standard.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

As far as I see it, Austin, the universal standard is God’s revelation of Himself is Scripture. If a story, no matter how well-told, disguises, twists, or contradicts Scripture, it does not glorify God. We can find things to admire about it, but a lie is a lie.

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

I agree.  My only point is that a single lie – or even a handful of lies – does not necessarily an evil story make.  It’s far better to parse a given story into its constituent truths and falsehoods than to approbate or condemn it wholesale.  The former is an exercise in discernment, while the latter grants free rein to dogmatic judgementalism.  It’s entirely possible – indeed very common – for stories to contain both truths which glorify God and lies which spit in His face.  Do we decry the latter yet ignore the former?  Such an approach would seem almost mean-spirited to me.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

My only point is that a single lie – or even a handful of lies – does not necessarily an evil story make.

And my point is, Truth that lies can’t overcome, does not a God-glorifying story make.

Apparently we’re coming at this from different angles and seeing the opposite sides.

Becky

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, I think your analogy accurately reflects life. The thing is, I don’t think the teen standing in his room yelling at his parents is glorifying his parents. Even if he used the computer they bought him to write hateful or untrue things about them, he still wouldn’t be glorifying them just because he’s using their generous provisions for him.

In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. I think it shows how shameful he is and how dishonoring he is to the ones who have nurtured and provided for him. When he should be using their good gifts to honor them, he’s instead showing disrespect.  It’s the truth of Romans 1:21-22 – “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”

Foolish people say in their hearts there is no God. Denying His existence, or claiming He is evil (as apparently Pullman’s series did) simply does not honor Him. Using His good gifts to do so magnifies the disrespect, disobedience, and rejection of Him.

Becky

PaulC
Guest

Even if he used the computer they bought him to write hateful or untrue things about them, he still wouldn’t be glorifying them just because he’s using their generous provisions for him.

I would wholehearted agree that the author is not glorifying God with his words, as this metaphor shows. However, I don’t believe that’s the point; I believe the issue here is that God‘s glory is being displayed in spite of the author. The author’s words, on some flawed, far-from-ideal level, do reflect God’s glory. Will the author, come judgement day, get any credit for that fact? Most certainly not. But will God’s glory in some small way have been shown through his work? Most likely, yes. Otherwise, we’re back to the issue that an author’s intent dictates whether or not the reader glorifies God through reading it (ie. since Brandon Sanderson did not intend for his work to make me glorify God, the fact that one of his characters in The Way of Kings has inspired me to be a better leader as I follow Christ cannot have brought more glory to God, since it came through his not-deliberately-God-glorifying novel.)
However, I would agree with Austin that some novels have so much crap in them it wouldn’t be worthwhile or beneficial to try and dig something out of them; the negative effects of the book sufficiently outweigh the bad. Despite that, I would contend that even in those, on some small level God’s glory can be found amidst the mud.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I would wholehearted agree that the author is not glorifying God with his words, as this metaphor shows. However, I don’t believe that’s the point; I believe the issue here is that God‘s glory is being displayed in spite of the author.

Paul, I think we might be getting tangled with words here. I am saying that not all stories glorify God. That doesn’t mean that God creating Man in His image doesn’t give Him glory. That Man can sub-create is a testimony to God’s generous provision, much the way the parents giving a teen his computer would be.

It’s what we do with what God gives that results in stories, however. And some of those stories, while reflecting God-given intellect intends to, and accomplishes, rebellious purposes.

I go back to my earlier example of those recorded in the Old Testament who made idols. God gave the talent, but He simply was NOT glorified by the image they made, even when they said Here’s your god who brought you out of Egypt.

Actually, no, that was not God, and to say it was, was false. It was slanderous to God. It did not bring Him or His name glory, even though the work of their hands was only possible because He provided them with the ability.

In short, what we do matters.

I would contend that any spiritual truth a reader gleans from a work that sets itself against God, is an example of God’s work of redemption. He can restore what the locusts have eaten.

From the perspective of “all stories glorify God,” this would not be possible. There’s nothing to redeem, nothing to restore. Basically God is neutralized after He created, because it all glorifies Him anyway. He only had to wind it up and let it work.  Note, I have no reason to believe this is actually your position, Paul. It’s just that it’s the logical conclusion when that position is extended to its logical end.

Becky

PaulC
Guest

I just have to say that I love these discussions. They make me think from perspectives that I normally wouldn’t.
Now, in response to your thoughts… Hm. Sound observations, which in many regards I agree with.

In short, what we do matters.
I would contend that any spiritual truth a reader gleans from a work that sets itself against God, is an example of God’s work of redemption. He can restore what the locusts have eaten.

I am in wholehearted agreement with this. Yes, the writers who write to defy God, the Israelites in making a golden calf, etc, are doing wrong; and yes, the fact that they are doing wrong does matter. Far better for them, far better for those reading, and far more glorifying to God if those sub-creators instead wrote to please their Creator. It saddens me that authors with incredible talent use it in defiance of, rather than in worship of, God. What we as authors do matters.
However, the title of this whole blog post series is “Reading is Worship”. Thus, all of my comments have been looking at this from the perspective of “What we as readers do matters”. We, as readers, can be agents of God’s redemptive work through our reading; not through ignoring the evil in the book or the malicious intent of the author, but rather through acknowledging that darkness but seeing that God’s light shines in spite of them.  Did not even the Apostle Paul use an idolatrous altar to point to Christ at Mars Hill? And does not our ability to use such discernment come only through the Holy Spirit working in our lives? Thus in no way does that construe to say that God could simply wind the earth up and leave it be. Furthermore, God in His goodness works to maximize His glory, not just settle for the flawed, concealed particles of His glory that people display.
But in all practicality, if we were to look at this as a dimmer switch of glory, such stories that require so much searching to find any light are dimmer switches turned nearly off. Could someone have seen the golden calf and not acknowledged it as god, instead seeing a well-crafted reflection of God’s creation? I would argue yes, as per the Apostle Paul example above. Even with that fact, the dangers in the golden calf so far outweighed any small truths that rightly did Moses destroy it. In the same way with such stories, it is far more safe and worthwhile to find stories with less lies and more truth, where the dimmer switch is set brighter as both intent and talent honor God, and glorify God in reading those.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Paul, I love discussions like this too, for the same reason you stated. So thank you for being willing to engage the topic.

I also see from what you said why we’re coming at this from different angles. As you said, you’re keeping as primacy the series topic. I, however, am taking issue with the one particular statement Stephen made in this post: “All stories are based in Scripture.” As I read the post, it seemed quickly to turn that statement into “all stories glorify God,” and it is that point with which I disagree.

Paul, you said

We, as readers, can be agents of God’s redemptive work through our reading; not through ignoring the evil in the book or the malicious intent of the author, but rather through acknowledging that darkness but seeing that God’s light shines in spite of them.

I have no problem with that. As I see it, this is God at work, not the story at work. It’s a practical example of God working all things for the spiritual good of those who love Him. It’s the same as Joseph’s experience when he said, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.

Yes, a thousand times, yes, God can and will use ashes to make garlands, He will replace mourning with gladness. But that doesn’t mean the ashes aren’t ashes. That doesn’t mean the evil Joseph’s brothers intended wasn’t evil, and that doesn’t mean stories that lie about God aren’t immoral.

In that vein, an idol is still an idol even if someone could look at it and say, Oh, what a beautiful depiction of a cow. Why? Because making it was disobedience.

I think as long as there is an absolute–what is true versus what is false, what is obedient versus what is disobedient–I don’t think we should look at stories as if they are on a sliding scale. Some stories may contain truth, but in the end their resolution points to what is false.

We don’t need to categorically condemn stories that aren’t true in all their parts and in the whole of what they say, because God can use them. But I think we need to be unequivocal about the existence of what is false. We ought not color them as God-glorifying.

This came clear to me as I thought about evil for my post today. Evil claims God is not who He is, but evil lies. So too with stories. Some show God in ways that are not true, but they are lies. The fact that a reader can look beyond the lies and see Truth does not change the fact that the stories are still lies.

Becky

Austin Gunderson
Member

Nice.  I just finished up with a big spiel about Paul on Mars Hill in my comment above, and now I see that you’d already made the very same point down here.  😉

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Two different views, it would seem, are at the heart of the how-much-nonbelievers-can-accidentally-glorify-God concept.

These two views have arisen before on Speculative Faith.

I’m not sure how I would “classify” them, but they involve differing views of who in a greater sense “owns” the world and the Stuff therein. Does God still own the world, with no contested ownership? Or does Satan in some sense run things, even though He remains on a tight leash held by God (which both views acknowledge)?

If God owns the world, and glorifies Himself in some sense no matter what happens — even by allowing sin and nastiness and lies — then we can, in some sense, say that “everything glorifies God.” He is running the show. It’s His Story, His world, and we are only just living in it. Our rebellion is outrageous, but it doesn’t call His authority into question (or implicate Him in our rebellious choices). We can affirm both the Biblical truths of total depravity and human responsibility for sin, and God’s overruling power to use for good (His glory) what we mean for evil (Gen. 50:20).

With that in mind, some replies for Becky:

Stephen, I think your analogy accurately reflects life. The thing is, I don’t think the teen standing in his room yelling at his parents is glorifying his parents.

Not a bit — not by his intention. Yet as Austin pointed out, and which you seconded (if I recall right), an observer with the right worldview would see the worse rebellion of the teen, given the way he has benefited from parents, and the greater “glory” or goodness of the parents as they put up with his shenanigans. The sinner is seen as worse because he “reflects” the parents’ goodness despite his motives, not because he overthrows it completely. And the discerning observer would see the parents’ goodness more clearly by contrast — especially if they exhibit firmness yet kindness with their ranting offspring, similar to how God deals with the humans He created!

The analogy is limited. No parent is perfect, and no human is “glorified” even during rebellion as God is. Yet it’s a good starting point to understanding that readers can see God’s glory in story — and in a moment I’ll define that — despite an author’s bad goals or the story’s flaws (such as the case with The Lion King).

Denying His existence, or claiming He is evil (as apparently Pullman’s series did) simply does not honor Him. Using His good gifts to do so magnifies the disrespect, disobedience, and rejection of Him.

On their end, absolutely it shows their sick motivations.

Yet simultaneously, we see more of God’s glory! All of Pullman’s gifts, his talents, even the (reported) skill of his craft, echo the Creator. The story itself — so long as it has a good-versus-evil structure with heroes, a plot, and a well-made story-world — has some reflection of the Creator’s reality. The silver and gold is His. How much, then, can readers laugh as they recognize these things even as the author rants and screams at the One Who gave them. How much worse the dark rebellion; how much greater the blaze of His glory, even if it’s only revealed more by contrast.

That person will still, without repenting, go to Hell for eternity for using God’s gifts and rejecting Him. It’s the ultimate insult against an infinite, holy, loving God Whose very way of salvation was rejected. Yet God is not crushed, and the purpose of His Story is not overwritten because a puny “god” raised his pen in His face.

Readers, even if not authors, can see this for what it is.

More from Becky (and in reply, I’ll likely repeat myself, and surely repeat others):

I, however, am taking issue with the one particular statement Stephen made in this post: “All stories are based in Scripture.”

Again, I’m referring to the Biblical belief that God owns reality. We can rant and scream and pretend its ours all we like, but it’s still His “stuff.” That includes stories, and when I say that, I’m thinking of a tale that includes real heroes, characters, and story-worlds. Authors who try for that are ripping off God’s Story, specifically told in Scripture, and reflected in the reality around us. I’m not thinking here of an intentionally rebellious story that is horribly done, or ends with the bad guys winning, or some other silly-subversive structure. All that can do is react to reality — which, I believe, God would still use for His glory by contrast, as He does all sin.

As I read the post, it seemed quickly to turn that statement into “all stories glorify God,” and it is that point with which I disagree.

It depends.

Biblically, God is in the market for more reflection of His Name. I don’t understand how He does it, but I know that through one way or another, He does work all things together for good — for our good, and mainly for His. That includes sin and suffering. That includes lies and deceptions. I’m confident we can acknowledge this without also veering toward some universalistic “it’s all good” lie. For example, God will still glorify Himself somehow even if someone rejects Him. Yet Christians must share their faith with others.

I think we should teach people to hold up stories to Scripture and see where they agree or disagree, not on the externals, as you say. The Lion King is not dangerous because a character sat in a Lotus position. It is “dangerous” because it advocates an untrue way of looking at the world–Jesus Christ is absent while elements of New Age philosophy abound.

Believe it or not, I have only seen The Lion King once, in theaters when it was re-released with the 3D. 🙂

In my view, any movie or Thing is only as dangerous as the heart that receives it.

  • 50 Shades of Gray is sick stuff, we’ve all rightly heard, but not because the sin somehow “contaminates” its pages like germs. It’s because sinful hearts receive it (and the author’s sinful heart made it — perverting God’s design for sex/intimacy).
  • The Shack is just plain shallow heresy, and not even very well-written heresy. But a discerning Christian could read it and not sin. A sinful heart would show otherwise.
  • The Lion King is similarly only as dangerous as the viewer’s response. There is enough of a Christian structure there, as Austin has shown, to hold the story up. Yet onto that skeletal framework, which mostly consists of a beautiful body, are plenty of infected notions, as Becky pointed out. Both are true. The film is a “mixed bag,” to switch metaphors. Thus we must discern. We can see the surface skin blemishes and call them for what they are, yet also admire the best of the “body,” and especially the beauty of the skeletal framework beneath — a framework that comes from the Story.

Ultimately, any story that includes a “good world gone bad that must be rescued by the hero with the villain defeated” structure echoes Scripture. People can try to fake our readers, and pile lies on top, and pretend this is new and original, but they always end up lapsing into Biblical tropes like good heroes coming back to life, or the surprise twist of great evil into greater and victorious good.

Superhero films alone are notorious for this. Audiences eat it up and demand more.

And discerning Christians may smirk, knowing why — and knowing the far better, more true, 100-percent glorious Story that shines brightest and which other manmade stories can only reflect in various shades across the spectrum of glories.

Finally, I’ll flagrantly dodge the predestination/free-will topic, which is at the heart of this discussion! It’s enough to know both truths work together in Scripture, and that God’s free will overrule’s man’s free will — and that both are true to their inherent natures. Either way, out of man’s evil, God works good, for His glory.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Hey, Stephen, thanks for taking the time to jump back into the discussion.  It’s always good to hear from the guy who generated the ideas in the first place. 😀

You said in your comment above:

I’m not sure how I would “classify” them, but they involve differing views of who in a greater sense “owns” the world and the Stuff therein.

I don’t think that’s the issue. As I said, I think your rebellious teen analogy is a good one. Clearly the house, the room, the stuff, all belong to the parents. In a sense you could say the boy belongs to the parents because his DNA is theirs.

My contention is, however, that when he misuses their stuff, that reflects on him. The disrespectful things he says or writes (stories) are products of his and are sinful, immoral, disobedient, false because he is lying about and slandering his parents.

That someone else might step aside and see the kindness and generosity of the parents is completely a reflection on them and not on the boy or his words. He and his words cannot get any credit (such as saying they are on a sliding scale of things that glorify his parents) for the good that his parents have done.

Consequently, when Austin saw Mustafa as a God-figure in The Lion King, in contradiction to the intent of the authors and the internal evidence of the story, then God gets the credit for shaping his worldview so that he is prone to look for God when He has not been presented.

Then as you said

All of Pullman’s gifts, his talents, even the (reported) skill of his craft, echo the Creator.

But his story does not. We can credit God for what He has done, but that doesn’t sanctify what Mr. Pullman has done. He has dishonored his Creator, denying Him and His power. He has written slanderous things that defame God’s name. His lies in no way glorify God.

As I’ve said before (yes, repeating myself, so this will be my last comment on this topic), lies cannot ultimately hide the truth (because they are lies), but that doesn’t mean we should credit the lies with revealing the truth.

In my view, any movie or Thing is only as dangerous as the heart that receives it.

Ah, but Stephen all our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. We can’t rely on our “good hearts.” We must hold works up to the only authoritative standard we have–the word of God.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t read a work, as I did The Shack, hold it up to Scripture and see how it contrasts, then recognize that others learned something true about God from the story.

I put “dangerous” in quotes precisely because I believe all things contrary to God’s word are dangerous, but as soon as we “out” them, they lose their sting. Seeing a spider means I can kill it or avoid it, but not seeing it means it can creep up on me unawares and insert its poison.

Discernment means we “out” the spiders. It doesn’t mean we tell people not to worry about the black widow because she’s one of God’s creatures. And from this point, that analogy breaks down. But I think the point is clear.

God gets the credit for what He does to redeem a sinful product, but that doesn’t mean we stop calling the product sinful. Joseph’s brothers still did an evil thing, though God used it for good. Selling Joseph into slavery doesn’t become good. God can make garlands from ashes, but they were still ashes to begin with. We don’t look at ashes and say, look at the pretty garlands. God can turn mourning into rejoicing, but that doesn’t mean we cheer instead of mourning. First we mourn.

God’s glory is greater because He takes the broken and heals. Eden is ruined, death is in the world, but God is a Redeemer. That doesn’t mean Eve’s sin brought God glory. Her product–her act of rebellion, the script she wrote–was heinous and a rejection of God, not an act glorifying Him. That He changed the story is the thing that gives Him glory.

Without the change–which I believe saying “all stories glorify God” undoes–we rob God of His great act of redemption. No longer are we celebrating His act of making good out of the evil. And that’s the thing I thought worthy of writing all these comments about. 😉

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Greetings back. We seem to be approaching the same truth from different angles.

For example:

In my view, any movie or Thing is only as dangerous as the heart that receives it.

Ah, but Stephen all our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. We can’t rely on our “good hearts.” We must hold works up to the only authoritative standard we have–the word of God.

Fully agreed. Perhaps, re-reading that line, you see that I was talking about a Thing being dangerous. The sin is not in the Thing, but in the sinful heart.

Comparing others’ stories with the Story, God’s Word, is the SF mission, after all.

Before some further thoughts, I completely agree that in such a case as the screaming-teen example, it is the teen’s parents who get “credit” in the eyes of a discerning observer, while he gets condemnation (and mercy from good parents).

In the Lion King example, it is not the story’s non-Christian creators but God who gets the credit for any reflections of truth and beauty in the story.

That’s different from a kind of “it’s all good and all stories glorify God equally” notion. But it’s also different from saying that the glorification is only in the eye of the beholder whom God has gifted with worldview discernment. Rather, the glory-light from God is intrinsic in such a story, despite the creators’ intent.

And conversely, even if they have good intentions, the glory doesn’t go to God if they want to “glorify” Him contrary to ways He has revealed (e.g., with The Shack).

My contention is, however, that when he misuses their stuff, that reflects on him. The disrespectful things he says or writes (stories) are products of his and are sinful, immoral, disobedient, false because he is lying about and slandering his parents.

Absolutely. And it’s even worse, because he’s trying to use God’s gifts against Him (and hypothetical good parents’ gifts against them).

 

That someone else might step aside and see the kindness and generosity of the parents is completely a reflection on them and not on the boy or his words.

Agreed. Yet it’s also a reflection on the parents’ goodness, their “glory” in a way.

He and his words cannot get any credit (such as saying they are on a sliding scale of things that glorify his parents) for the good that his parents have done.

Also agreed. We are allied, as before, in opposing the overcorrecting notion that seeks to give non-Christian storytellers “credit” or “glory” merely for reflecting truths that God built into the universe. Only Christian storytellers are closer to the Source. (Whether they reflect it as well as non-Christian stories is another issue.)

Consequently, when Austin saw Mustafa as a God-figure in The Lion King, in contradiction to the intent of the authors and the internal evidence of the story, then God gets the credit for shaping his worldview so that he is prone to look for God when He has not been presented.

I also agree, and I daresay Austin would too. I would also add that God gets credit/glory/worship not just for shaping a Christian’s worldview, but for redeeming more of our minds so that we can see the Source of the truth or beauty that was always there — the beauty and truth that non-Christians handle all the time, with no real clue where it came from or how it must change them within.

Then as you said

All of Pullman’s gifts, his talents, even the (reported) skill of his craft, echo the Creator.

But his story does not. We can credit God for what He has done, but that doesn’t sanctify what Mr. Pullman has done. He has dishonored his Creator, denying Him and His power. He has written slanderous things that defame God’s name.

I agree the story is not “sanctified”; I don’t see that anyone has suggested that. I also haven’t seen anyone here suggest that we call the story anything but ultimately the product of sinful hearts. (I have, however, seen this implication elsewhere, and perhaps that’s what you’re thinking about!) These are twin truths: that rebel sinners try to steal God’s gifts, even as they bear His image, the imago Dei, and can do good things such as give good gifts to their children (Matt. 7:11).

“Total depravity” and common grace are both Biblical truths. Man is enslaved to his sinful nature. Yet God, to His glory, enables good despite man’s enslavement to sin.

His lies in no way glorify God.

More on this in part 10 — but I would tentatively suggest that in one way they do:

The right of God to work even people’s evil actions to His glory.

Ask this of the actions of Joseph’s brothers (again referencing Gen. 50:20). Did they glorify God in their choices to sell their brother into slavery? Not at all. Did God, however, glorify Himself and bring great good from their choice? Absolutely. Ah, the wonder of the Storyteller, to receive glory even in people’s evil choices!

Ex malo, bonum.

The same is more directly true of Pharaoh. We might say, His actions in no way glorified God. In one sense that’s true — Pharaoh had no such motive. But:

“I [the LORD] 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

If God can get glory this way, is it so much of a stretch to say He uses Pullman’s rebellion to glorify Himself? (Not to mention the “bones” of a good-versus-evil story that Pullman tries to abuse against God, even while stealing from Him?)

 Perhaps it’s as simple as a change in preposition:

  • God gets glory through His Word, the life and death of Christ, and the righteous acts of His Church — which can include story-enjoyment.
  • God gets glory over the sinful choices of men and the surface-level-only “good” they do — which can include flawed story-telling.

Either way, God gets glory.

And as for me and my house, I prefer the through.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

P.S.: The phrase “all stories are based in Scripture” is a summary of part 8, which makes the case more carefully. It also makes the case that God is glorified in whatever ways He says glorifies Him — not by what we make up or believe sounds spiritual!