Last week we celebrated the release of my daughter's album by inviting close friends for a small concert/party. A couple of days later, one attendee wrote to compliment Emilie and her music but asked if-instead of writing songs about love or feeling unnoticed or some of her other whimsical subjects-had she ever thought of writing ones that incorporated Scripture, catechisms, or biblical truths?
I appreciate my friend's question because it so clearly illustrates the perennial "secular vs. sacred" debate in Christian circles. The gist of this particular argument (if you can call it that) is: Can we glorify God in any way other than the direct, going-through-the-front-door, Jesus-mentioned-in-every-chorus kind of way?
But my friend's question implies that music that does not send a clear and unmistakable Christian message is not as valuable as music that does. I understand the concern here, and certainly agree that music has influence on its hearers and should be written thoughtfully. But the logical conclusion of such an argument would be that instrumental music, which has no lyrics, would not be able to glorify God. This would include pieces like Beethoven's well-known and loved Fifth Symphony, Bach's unaccompanied violin works, and Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu.
And not just music is involved in this argument. Dance, too, would be excluded from that group of art that glorifies God. Not only the bump-and-grind nightclub dancing that most of us would agree crosses the line, but also Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and West Coast swing. In visual arts, we'd have to kick out Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and about 90 percent of the remaining artworks now in existence. Da Vinci's The Last Supper and Michelangelo's Pieta and his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, being overtly "Christian," could stay.
What about areas outside of music and art? Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, famously said, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." Was he off base, or is it possible that God can be glorified in something as earthy and "unspiritual" as running? Can a person fly an airplane to His glory? Work in a mine? Feast at a heavily laden table? Change a diaper?
I tend to agree with Martin Luther, who so aptly reminded us, every vocation or endeavor can bring glory to God if done well and with joy, thankfulness, and gusto.
We're called to be a people of salt and light. Not one without the other. We need musicians like Emilie Henry, as well as writers and dancers and runners who are willing to brave the secular world, willing to engage it, and willing to show it the kind of beauty and goodness and truth that always points to God-dare I suggest, especially when it is not the overt, hit-you-over-the-head kind of message. Someday, perhaps Emilie will write more spiritually explicit songs, but what I don't want is for her to do it because she feels it is the only way to properly praise God.
What I believe, and what I tell my children, is that whatever their hands find to do, do it all to the glory of God. Whether it's writing music, crafting a short story, doing the dishes, shooting a film, building a website, or doing long division, I believe that God is praised when we use the talents and energies we have to the best of our ability, even if we never mention His name in the process.
"I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out" (Luke 19:40).