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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?
| Oct 25, 2012 | No comments | Series:

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?

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

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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

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. 


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

Austin Gunderson

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. 


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

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.


Rebecca LuElla Miller

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. 😉