Saturday, June 5, 2010

Exchanging Beauty for Corruption

In my last article about music, I explained that one way our perception of music is changed is through external experiences.  The second way is through internal idolatry.  Have you ever looked at a graven image and wondered how people could worship such a hideous monster?   How could any one ever find images like these appealing?

We know that God Himself is the ultimate source and absolute standard of beauty.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.  (Psalm 27:4, NASB)
Why doesn't God always seem most beautiful to us?  Why does evil sometimes seem very appealing to us?  How do idols become more delightful in our eyes than God?  (Whether the idols are outright "bad" things like statues or good things like sex, money, comfort, food, work, or family.)  Why isn't our subjective perception of beauty always accurate?

Romans 1 gives us a clue about how this happens.
"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, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals and crawling creatures."  (vv.21-23, NASB)
Notice the progression:
  1. They knew God (verses 19 and 20 show that everyone receives a general revelation of God's character through observing His creation)
  2. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks
  3. They became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened
  4. Professing to be wise, they became fools
  5. They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible creatures
Friends, this is talking about each of us.  We are the "they".  We knew God is beautiful.  A quick glance at a rainbow or a starry sky or a rippling brook is enough evidence to damn us for ever thinking their Creator could be anything less than Most Beautiful.  But no, we didn't want God to get our worship.  We didn't want to acknowledge His authority over our lives.  So to escape from Him we threw up all kinds of clever philosophies (called "speculations" here) to blot out the convicting light of creation.  Whether through warped religion or through atheism, we became "wise".  And in doing this, we also perverted our own ability to perceive beauty.  The word "glory" here conveys the idea of splendor, majesty, or beauty.  We exchanged a greater Beauty for lesser ones.

If you study world cultures from an anthropological perspective, you will discover that the further a culture drifts from honoring and thanking the God of the Bible, the more ugly and debased their definition of beauty becomes.  This is expressed through all their forms of aesthetics, whether it is paintings, clothing, dancing, sculptures, drama, or music.  To say this a different way, there is a reason that Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus all have different styles of music associated with their religions.  These styles are not random choices, but the result of centuries of theology filtering down into aesthetics.

But one could argue, if it's true that theology shapes aesthetics, why have some very evil regimes used the same aesthetic styles as we do?  To go back to my Nazi song illustration: if I am correct in saying that a culture's theology will come out in its art forms, why did the Nazis not wear war paint and G-strings and beat tom-toms?  Why would their extreme depravity use art forms very similar to the rest of "Christian" Europe?  Or, to pick a different dictator, why does North Korea worship Kim Jung Il using militaristic tunes very similar to the rest of the world?  A man as evil as he should prefer to be worshiped to the "tune" of nails on chalkboard, right?  On the other hand, why do Christians, even theologically conservative ones, sometimes worship God with music more fitting to cultures of rebellion, confusion, and lust?  Doesn't this prove that aesthetics are amoral and completely disconnected from theology?  We will answer this argument in my next article about music.

Meanwhile, tell me what you think about what I've said so far!


  1. Daniel there is actually a pretty simple and scriptural explanation for the thesis that you are putting forth. I was going to introduce this last post, but waited to see what your response was. This post is not quite what I expected, but the scriptural reference is none-the-less quite pertinent.

    Rom 14:14 "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

    Another is Acts 10:15 "And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."

    A full reading of Romans 14 will help to set that verse in context. Acts 10 is Peter's vision about going to the gentile Cornelius. Being a good God fearing Jew, such a thing was unquestionably wrong for him. Yet God showed him that under Grace it was not only ok, but profitable.

    Your postings on Music started with the question "Is Music Sin?". Then moved to "Is Music Evil?" Now you have moved to idol worship and equating it some music must have something intrinsicly evil.

    When I look at those idols I see art. I project nothing on them as I am Christian. I do not see evil or sin. Those that worshipped those idols may well have projected their beliefs (bias) on them. But that is their belief from a non-Christian view. A Christian knows these to be harmless and can actually appreciate the beauty of the sculpture.

    A full reading of Romans 14 allows that if one deems eating certain foods as bad not to call into question those that eat.

    Rom 14:2,3 "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him."

    An in-depth study of Romans 14 reveals much about ourselves, where we are in our understanding and our walk as well as how we are to approach and understand our brothers and sisters in Christ who are perhaps not as far along as vs 2,3 so indicate.

    I want to close with this thought. Prior to WWII the people in Germany, believing they were both strong Christians and strong nationalists took part in extensive book burnings to purify the culture. Strong parallels were drawn to Martin Luther and purifications that took place in response to the 300th anniversary of the Reformation. (This would have been about 150 years prior.)

    The point is that according to scripture and Romans 14:14 in particular that there is "nothing unclean of itself." Rather it is what we project upon it, either sinful or sacred that defines it for us within our context (culture). When we begin to talk about some music or statues as containing evil or sin, we need to remember that those things are inanimate and can contain nothing of the sort of themselves. It is only by our projection that they can adopt meaning. This, as in Nazi Germany, can easily be carried to an extreme.

    One of the most precious freedoms we have in the USA, and deemed so important by our Christian founding fathers was both the freedom to speak as we choose, assemble and worship as well as the freedom to not do so. That is simply because they recognized that freedom cannot exist with the freedom of the gospel.

    I'll go one further comment. Missionaries are often faced with cultural transition issues when they attempt to translate certain scriptural concepts to a culture that doesn't understand them. One such problem is of pigs in the gospels and OT dietary laws. These are considered a form of dirt, filth and associated with uncleanliness. Yet in a culture where pigs are revered, it doesn't fit. So they have to find substitute images.

    Music is no different. What is noise to one man is bliss to another. Let us not judge the sounds itself, but rather revere the creator who made all sound possible.

  2. I left a key work out in the third from last paragraph - last sentence. It should read "That is simply because they [founding fathers] recognized that freedom cannot exist withOUT the freedom of the gospel."

    I probably should add one other historical point in our projections. We have dealt primarily with what we "think" or "see" as evil or sinful music. At least that is the premise. On the flip side is what is deemed as holy and righteous. These too are extensions or projections by us. To take this to the extreme, in the time of the Reformation there was a great deal of interest in Christian religious relics. In fact there was quite a business in forgeries. Why? Because people projected goodness on them. Simply put it was another form of idol worship, yet it took many centuries to cleanse most of that out.

    Yet today many Christians still deem the church's sanctuary as "holy ground". The emblems of communion in some denominations are held as sacred artifacts (once they have been blessed by the priest or pastor). Need we mention the "holy water" from baptismal fonts. All of these are a form of idolatry as we project meanings on them that have scant basis in scripture. (Again Rom 14:14)

    The Apostle Paul is our greatest guide to our life after the resurrection. In his Epistles are found both doctrine and practical application that is for us today. About the closest he comes to addressing music is to state that all things must be done in an orderly fashion. That is that there are not to be multiple people speaking at the same time. If one speaks in tongue then there must be one to interpret. This is pretty good advice as well being scant in content. The bottom line is that there is not a scripturally given order of worship nor the nature of songs, readings and speaking (prophesying) that must take place. We are pretty open to what can be included or excluded.

    The only real guidance out of this is that it should edify the Body. That we have different contexts from which to do so only enhances the ways in which worship can take place and the music that can be included.

    One side note --- many early hymn tunes especially English and German in nature have their origins in bar songs.

  3. Ok, this is the last post I promise. I had to reference 1 Cor 6: 11,12

    "And such were some of you [evil doers - see previous verses - jcr]: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any."

    When we look at this section and particularly vs 12 and see the same stated in bit different way in Rom 14:14, we can clearly understand that in this age of Grace, there are not unlawful things (inanimate objects or music for that matter) for us (ie sin or evil) but there are clearly things that are not expedient. Why? We look to all or Romans 14 for the answer.

    Paul further states in 1 Cor 9:22b, 23 "... i am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."

    This is actually a great lead-in to the gospel and why Paul's express purpose (as given to him by Christ Himself) was to spread the gospel. (1 Cor 151-4) But I think that is a good place to finally close!

  4. Again, good responses, BJ. Guess you see that I disagree with you, Daniel! :) Dove-tailing off of BJ's post re: 1 Cor. 9:22, Paul was willing to give up any rights/liberties that he had so that he could save some. That's what he meant by the section in 1 Corinthians. He will give up the liberties he knows that he has so that he would not offend people within their cultural contexts. And that's hard to do!

    jim m.