Liberty or License: Reflections on Conscience and The Glory of God

“What good is it if a man sees the whole series of The Tudors but forfeits his soul?” That’s not quite how the verse goes but there’s an important lesson that we can draw from the mis-phrase. Art is powerful! We’ve discussed that at length, but sometimes that power can lead us to places we should not go. Art can be a wild temptress as much as she can be a great companion. And we must be careful, we must be on our guard against sin hiding behind art. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not necessarily saying that HBO’s The Tudors is sinful. I think it is a quality production that has some compelling elements to it. But for me personally, I couldn’t endure the sexuality. It was too hard to watch the show and not be tempted with inappropriate thoughts. So I stopped watching it. Do I hold that every Christian should stop watching it? No. It’s a matter of conscience. Such an expression will no-doubt bother some, so it’s best to explicate this subject more carefully.

Each of us is prone to certain sins. We all have different weaknesses and different temptations. I don’t struggle, praise Jesus, with necrophilia. But someone else might. My friends from California who grew upon the beach may not struggle with skimpy bathing suits, but I probably would struggle to think rightly in their line of sight. My friends in France see nudity constantly; they’re a bit anesthetized to it. But the topless girl sun bathing by the pool when I visited Spain was definitely more than I could handle. It’s not that the definition of sin changes, but we aren’t all prone to the same sins. What tempts one may not faze another. When it comes to art this is an important principle to keep in mind.

Too often Christians make universal rules about the acceptability of this product, that film, this book, and more. We suggest that “true Christians” would never listen to that music, watch that show, go to that museum. But such statements hardly seem accurate. True Christians come with all sorts of different personalities and weaknesses. Harry Potter might turn someone into a Satanist (it mostly just turns socially awkward kids into more socially awkward), but plenty of people have read it and maintained their unadulterated devotion to Jesus. In fact some readers have found that reading the Christ-story within the Potter novels to be a deeply devotional experience.  We can’t label everyone with our same temptations, and therefore we must be careful to apply universal rules about what certain aspects of art will do to others.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we should simply ignore our own consciences. Because viewing art, enjoying art, like all things, should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) we must be aware of what will tempt us to sin. If nudity tempts me I must avoid such presentations. If reading romance novels tempts me then I shouldn’t read those. If listening to Willie Nelson tempts me to get drunk then I should avoid such songs. The key question for true Christians should be “can I glorify God in this engagement.” That should be our eternal quest: the glory of God. If what I am indulging in tempts me to sin then I have to flee from it.

You see art exists, like all things, ultimately for the glory of God. It has a host of wonderful penultimate functions, but if I can’t glorify God in my engagement of it then I must reject it. Not with universal rules about what others must do, but for my own spiritual purity I must turn away. We must always be active receivers. The passive consumer is setting himself up for failure. In order to most glorify God we must know our weaknesses, avoid temptation, and enjoy good art properly.

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  1. […] Dave muses on when followers of Christ have liberty and when we are just engaging in license (HT: Matt […]

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