Thursday, May 13, 2010

Answering Rob, Part 2

As promised, here is an answer to Rob's question on the post concerning whether God delights in non-Christian art. He wrote:

Can we use the word "please?" There are things that are done in the world by non-Christians that "reflect" something about God Himself, but do they actually "please" Him? How do you explain it in light of Hebrews 11:6 "Without faith, it is impossible to please God..."?

Here's my attempt at an answer:

Basically, I think Rob's question could be stated another way: does Scripture teach that God can take pleasure in a "product" that is the result of human sin? I think the answer is yes, and the most vivid demonstration of this is the cross.

Isaiah 53:10 says that God was pleased to bruise His Son (not all translations use this language, but the NASB does). There was a sense in which God took pleasure in the crushing of His Son, as it was God's way of vindicating His righteousness, so that He might be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. Because His glory was displayed at the cross, God delighted in it.

But the death of Jesus came about through human sin. It is not that God took pleasure in the cowardice of Pilate, the jealousy of the Jews, or the cynical mocking of the Jewish soldiers. These are evil acts which God hates and will be punished. But the end result of it was still something that brought pleasure to God, when viewed from the wider perspective of how God was glorifying Himself at the cross.

Of course, the cross is not exactly the same thing as a poem, novel or jazz riff created by a God-belittling atheist. But I think there may be a principle there: in His wisdom, God can use the evil acts of people who hate Him to produce something that He delights in.

Perhaps not all will agree with me on that, and that is fine. But still, every Christian ought to reckon with how/why they enjoy works of culture produced by non-Christians. Whether it's music, a movie, a home run, an exotic dish, or an iPod, it is a nearly universal experience for Christians to use and enjoy products created by people who hate Jesus. Is this a deep flaw in us that needs to be repented of, or is our delight a reflection of God's image that is stamped on our hearts? Or is there another way to explain it?

With regard to the Hebrews 11 passage that Rob quoted, I would say this: I don't believe that Reinke said that God is pleased by non-Christians; he only said that God can and does delight in things that they produce. If you concede that non-Christians reflect God's image, and you concede that God loves His glory supremely and takes great pleasure in the display of Himself wherever it is found, then it seems plausible that God does delight in the displays of Himself that He sees in non-Christians. It is not a delight in them, as sinners; it is a delight in His own glory shining through them. It's a delight in Himself. If God were not to delight in His own image reflected back to Himself, He would be unrighteous.

I think the context of Hebrews 11, and the entire letter as a whole, reveals that in writing 11:6, the writer has no intent of informing us about God's attitude toward art. He is warning a drifting church in danger of reverting to legalism that God's people have never pleased Him through their works, but always through faith. When he speaks of pleasing God here, I believe he's speaking of pleasing Him in a salvific (yes, that really is a word) way. So I don't know that this verse necessarily has any bearing on the issue. Perhaps I'm wrong about that though.

Thanks for stimulating my thought on these matters, Rob. This is obviously a matter way outside the innermost circle of core Christian beliefs, so it's an area where I think Christians can have differing views. I only posted Reinke's article and my own reflections because I desire that all of us who love Jesus work hard to think in a God-centered way about all of life. And that includes our love of art.

Since leisure and art is such a big part of everyone's life, I figure it's a good thing to think through. Whether you arrive at the same conclusions as me or not (and my thinking is certainly still in process), hopefully God will be honored by our diligent thinking.

If anyone has made it this far, I would certainly value your adding in your thoughts on this matter!

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