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All Glory to God

When can what is God-created and God-given actually distract us from God Himself?
By JESSICA GELINEAU
Read Time: 6 minutes

Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling. (The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis).


We recently celebrated a version of the Sabbath as a family. It was an interesting exercise, and it would be a tangent to go into the details of what that looked like for us. In the context of this story, it would be helpful to know that our observance included putting away our phones and computers for a full day.

After these were ceremoniously stored out of reach on Friday evening, we sat down on the couch, about to kick off our time of rest by eating mushroom and olive pizza and watching a nature movie together. Levi, my husband, had covered the two-year-old’s lap with a towel against tomato sauce stains and looked at me. “I feel like there should be a blessing or something we say to start our Sabbath.”

“I have a prayer!” chimed in five-year-old Pippa, without missing a beat, “Help us think more about things God created and not about the things God didn’t create.” And we said, “Amen!”

The Things God Didn’t Create and The Things He Did

In my daughter’s concrete, elementary-school-age brain, it’s easy to sort “things God created” and “things God didn’t create” into two buckets. Oak trees, snow leopards, our family. The TV remote, Daddy’s cell phone, and her new Lego set (which actually featured heavily in our unplugged Saturday activities). Her spontaneous prayer implies that the first category is inherently good, and the second is inherently not so good. But there is more nuance there, isn’t there? When can what is God-created and God-given actually distract us from God Himself?

Idols1 mentioned in the Bible (bear with me) were often “things God didn’t create,” things created by humans. Think of the Golden Calf, the image of the mythological Dagon which kept falling on its face (that’s a funny story when you’re a kid!), the “god” in Isaiah 44 that is made out of some of the wood before the rest is used to build a nice bonfire.2

These kinds of literal idols are still important items in many modern religions today; they are not a thing of the past. However, they do not hold much temptation as objects of worship for me (and perhaps for others), who grew up in a largely Western, Christian, or secular context.

Idols can also come in the form of “things God created.” The worship of the Creator-made sun, moon, and stars took place in several cultures God’s people interacted with or found themselves living within during Biblical times. Job, while listing potential, plausible iniquities that he did not commit, says, “If I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand… I would have been false to God above.” (Job 31:26-28).3

As one commentator explains, “The heavenly bodies which were worshiped were so remote that the worshippers could not access them. They expressed their veneration by kissing the hand. Job means to say he had never performed an act of homage to the heavenly bodies.”4

Job didn’t worship the sun, and neither do I. However, I personally can understand the desire to worship and exalt aspects of God’s Creation more so than I can fathom bowing down to an image of wood or stone. You could say that those things the Creator made are more inherently beautiful and, therefore, have a more powerful draw, a greater gravity. The steady rhythm of ocean waves. The radiance of the sun shining on your face after a multi-day rainstorm. The moon when it is full and seems low to the ground. 

As even my young child knows, it is good to spend time thinking about the things God created. And it is good to embrace our calling to create, being made in His image. The antidote to accidental idolatry is not that we avoid these good gifts because they are just too good, but that we ground ourselves and anchor ourselves in the remembrance of the fountain they flow from, ideally daily. 

Art shouldn’t be about self.

Similarly, when we engage in the creative process, our focus must not drift away from the source of that creativity. The immersive feeling of being able to paint a beautiful vista, tell a compelling story, or bring a piece of music into being can be nearly intoxicating. This feeling is a wonderful gift, but it can also be a fatal temptation if it leads to the exaltation of the creation or the created process over the Creator Himself.

The way author and songwriter Andrew Peterson writes about the potential missteps believers can take when participating in the creative process resonates with me.

Art shouldn’t be about self-expression or self-indulgence. Art shouldn’t be about self. The paradox is that art is necessarily created by a Self, and will necessarily draw some measure of attention or consideration to the artist. But the aim ought to be for the thing to draw attention, ultimately, to something other than the Self.5

For believers, this “something other” is clear. We want our music and our art to testify to God’s existence, love, and design for eternal good.

Perhaps those of us who consider ourselves artists and are prone to worship, or at least over-love, our own work (I am absolutely guilty!) can devise some practical, anchoring habit to remind ourselves where our creativity comes from. I recently learned that the initials for the phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” All Glory to God, are written at the bottom of each of Bach’s manuscripts. I imagine praying a short, even memorized prayer habitually before sitting down to sketch, compose, write, or cast could go a long way towards staving off misplaced affection for our creative work or processes. 

Our Work in Light of a Creator and a Redeemer

I would never want to imply that my little artistic or creative endeavors are objectively better than those of my neighbors who haven’t yet come to know Christ. My artistic processes are scattered. I cling, gather, and glean how I can. I rarely devote time to practicing any particular piece of music to make it shine the way the composer intended (whether I or another is the composer).

And when I do hit on a particularly satisfactory idea or sing a harmonic note that sounds actually beautiful, and I sit in that feeling for any length of time, I (wretched woman that I am!) feel the pull of my hand towards the stars. I start to fall in love with the telling of the story. And I need to return to square one, remove my shoes, and stand in the grass again. 

What I do mean is that, in the context of the work Christ has already begun in our lives, our art, or simply our work, is being redeemed in a way that means that it has substance—it has weight to it. It is real. It means something because Christ means something. For those of us who find ourselves in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And I feel very much this means our artistic endeavors and everything else we do, for that matter, belongs to the new Creation.

I return now to briefly reconsider Pippa’s spontaneous prayer and offer a variation of it that I can pray as a slightly older child of God who has, mathematically speaking, about seven times more experience with the deceitfulness of the human heart.

“Help us think more often about the things God created, and remember with certainty that everything we or other humans create is subject to, and ultimately derived from, the King of Creation.”

King of Creation is not an explicit title given to God in the Bible, though the earth and everything in it are clearly subject to Him.6 If the phrase rings a bell for you, it might be because you’ve sung the following well-known hymn:7

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of Creation!

O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health and salvation!

The idea of God being our health and salvation calls to mind Psalm 103. In reading verses 3-5, we recall: “He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases He redeems your life from the pit, He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies your desires with good things.”

The idea of God, the King of Creation, crowning us with anything is staggering.

Let us keep finding Him, again and again, and be satisfied by Him rather than the work of our hands.

Jessica Gelineau,
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA

 

  1. A quick Google search defines an idol as “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship” (Oxford Languages) — this works fine for the word as I am using it here. We may have different associations with or reactions to the term “idol.” Idolatry isn’t a term I personally often use. Still, I think it makes sense to discuss this here because it offers a framework for understanding what happens when we are drawn away to love the created rather than the Creator.

  2. Ex. 32:4, 1 Samuel 5:3-4, Isaiah 44:16-17.

  3. All Scriptural citations are taken from the English Standard Version, unless specifically noted.

  4. Psalm 47, Psalm 148.

  5. Hymn 118 in the Christadelphian green Hymn Book. Composer: Joachim Neander.

  6. Barnes, Albert (1798-1870). Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. Public Domain.

  7. Peterson, Andrew (2019). Adorning the Dark. B&H Books. pp. 44-45.

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