Can God take delight in non-Christian art? Tony Reinke answers.

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  1. A while back, I had a short-lived column devoted to magnifying God through the world around us. In small part, it folded because of my exploration of discovering how God is glorified even in pagan art. The below is the last existing article I wrote for the column along with one of the following helpful exchanges.

    Last weekend, I promised a further exploration of the theme of what theologians have termed common grace. The concept that the sun shines and the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. This is further expressed in the idea that all things serve to glorify God. And when we say all things, we really do mean all things. Even if a thing, action, or circumstance does not glorify God overtly, in the end (because of God’s majesty over his creation) even those things that stand in rebellion against him are doing so to the magnification of his glory.

    Generally, I use this THE WORLD AROUND US feature to highlight some of the natural things about our world that serve to magnify the wonder of God’s greatness. There’s a trick in the heart of the word “natural” though. We use it primarily to refer to anything that is not man-made. The trick here is that humanity is every bit as much a part of the natural world as is precipitation (a.k.a. rain, for those of you who don’t remember your fourth grade science classes)—and so, even as gorges are formed through the natural processes of rain (and the rivers that rains create), so too are the creations of man the work of natural processes for man is a natural part of this world.

    So with today’s feature, I’d like to highlight something man-made: Angkor Wat.

    Angkor Wat is a once-Hindi/then-Buddhist temple complex built in Cambodia for the king, Suryavarman II, as both temple and capital city (Angkor Wat even means city-temple). It is dedicated to Vishnu and its architecture is steeped in the Hindu mythology. Theologically speaking, it was built as an affront to the One True God by those whose lives were marked by their rebellion against him. Its builders were not so different, in this respect, from the inhabitants of Canaan, who chose to honour false deities and built their lives around their worship of self-made gods.

    And yet, we marvel at the work of God here in that it is by his grace that the builders of Angkor Wat were so gifted and imaginative in their arts. A Portuguese monk, having visited the site in 1586, described Angkor Wat as being “of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.” When an ungrateful child is negligent in thanking his grandmother for her gift to him, she is still honoured and gratified when that child is seen making frequent use of her gift to him. So it is with broken humanity. We dishonour God constantly with our rebellions against him—and yet his glory is magnified even in our faithlessness. In Angkor Wat, we see plainly the beautiful gifts with which God has gifted the creature he formed from the dust.

    In Angkor Wat, we see the unruly creature honour (even if only accidentally) the Creator by making such striking use of his gifts to humankind. In Angkor Wat, we are driven to reflection on God’s love for us despite our unfaithfulness, despite the fact that we would try to use his gifts to hurt him. In Angkor Wat we see God’s beauty overpower the corruption of man’s spirit. In Angkor Wat, we see much to dislike, yet still if we look with eyes to see, we will find every bit as much evidence of God’s wonder and glory as we find in the stars that stretch across the heavens.

    And now with the links!

    • Wikipedia:
    • Google Maps:


    In the comments that followed the article was some helpful discussion, but the following exchange gets right to the point of contention: whether God can be glorified by a rebellious act against him.

    Disagreeing Position:

    I respectfully disagree, seeing that the tower of Bable was also built of man but didnot glorify God, it is in nature that we see the glory of God.Even though we are given our creativity there are many times we abuse this and displease God. I donot feel that in displeasing God we glorify Him. The rain in given to the just and the unjust, but not forever. Pagan worship, pagan temples are not and have never been to be looked upon as glorifing God.

    My Response:

    Thank you for disagreeing respectfully! I completely understand where you’re coming from and largely agree. Let me see if I can better explain what I’m talking about.

    The tower of Babel was definitely a displeasure to God. Scripture makes that pretty plain. As well, the works of Picasso, Beethoven, and Da Vinci all stand as monument to human ingenuity and were created to magnify man rather than God. In this sense, the works of these great artists stand as an affront to God.

    Still, just because something is a displeasure to God doesn’t mean that it cannot also glorify him. Take, for instance, the crucifixion. Mankind’s supreme act of hatred and rebellion. It stands as an everlasting blemish upon the history of the human creature. And yet through it, God is supremely glorified. If we agree that everything God does and allows is meant by him for his glory, then certainly even the desperately wicked things he allows also work toward his glory—even if we cannot see how.

    Also, the law of God, as revealed in the writings of Paul, have one primary effect: they magnify the wickedness and inadequacy of humanity. The revelation of that wickedness, however, glorifies God in that it pushes man to recognize his own sin and fallibility and turn to the only one who can cleanse him.

    When I say that something like Angkor Wat glorifies God, I am not saying it is in any way a sacred place or that it is good. I am only saying that despite man’s intentions, God’s intentions are much higher and he *will* be glorified—no matter what his sinful creation purposes in their hearts. This is another way of seeing how something man meant for evil, God meant for good.

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