Application & Conclusion
I have frequently encountered moral dilemmas within the context of all three tests (see Part One and Part Two). While I could have easily dismissed my qualms as over-sensitivity, I instead set my mind to glorify Christ in the minutest areas of life. Correct response to art in this world takes courage and discernment, but there are Scriptural guidelines to making the right choice about supporting certain artistic endeavors:
- Listen to your conscience. Do not ignore that nudge in your spirit that dislikes something about the art. It may be a red flag to the presence of deeper evils. Sometimes I attended numerous rehearsals before listening to this “nagging” and backing out of the questionable project.
- Apply the three tests:
- Is the artwork inherently evil?
- Does the artwork serve an immoral purpose?
- Does the artwork represent something denounced by Scripture?
- In subtler matters, consult the Holy Spirit for guidance in deciding whether or not to support an artistic cause; pray when the moral ramifications are clouded, but do not hesitate to act when the dilemma is a clear compromise of God’s law.
- Trust God to work out the logistics of backing out of a project for moral reasons. This is always the hardest step because we may feel the pressure of being “needed” or “required” to contribute to the project, and it is easy for the imagination to conjure up complications. These are the defining moments to see just how big your God is. Finding a performer to replace you or substituting another assignment for your nude sketch is child’s play for God. And may I say, in the times I’ve been faced with compromise (and they are all too many these days), God has always given me a way out.
- Most importantly, become the alternative to vile art by creating, joining, and supporting artistic projects that portray pure values. As we discovered with Aaron and Bezalel, everything we fashion can be used to please either God or Satan.
Before I conclude, allow me to share a couple dilemmas from my own life; I pray they will inspire you to treasure a pure conscience and discern wisely in the arts.
In my college world literature class with a highly-rated professor, I was faced with an assignment to read and discuss an extremely graphic and sensual book. It was, as I understand, the equivalent of written pornography. I have been careful my entire life to preserve the innocence of my conscience (a precious asset, regardless of what my peers would say), and to fill my head with such filthy content would arouse desires contrary to God’s will. I approached my professor about substituting another work for it, and after expressing her initial shock at being asked such an unusual question, she agreed to a substitute. We met together to discuss choices, and incredibly we agreed on the Book of Job, which contained both the pure truths I longed for and the deep philosophy she sought. It was not an easy substitution! Until then I had never grappled with the sobering lessons of this book, and not only did I begin to understand God’s character in an entirely new way, but both I and my professor were thoroughly pleased with the resulting essay.
At another point in my studies, I and another composer made a bargain: he would conduct a work of mine if I performed piano in his work. Both pieces were to be premiered in the same recital. At the first rehearsal, I learned that his work was intended to portray gambling and sensuality. This background would likely be explained at the performance as well, and for me to perform in seeming concurrence with those themes would misrepresent Christ’s law. Although I didn’t know how I would find a replacement for my part, I backed out and offered to pay him to conduct my piece. He eventually secured another pianist, and I maintained an upright conscience knowing that I had fled from compromise.
I have done my best to enumerate what I believe Scripture teaches, but I am fallible like any other man and woefully inclined to error. I realize most of the conclusions I have reached are black and white, and I welcome friendly discussion in discerning specific issues of morality and art. My intention was not to classify every situation, but to generate intentional thought on how we handle the arts as Christ-ambassadors.
Let me leave you with a parting thought, a fourth test: the attitude of the heart. When the Israelites continuously rebelled against God, He observed that they “…dr[e]w near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove[d] their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consist[ed] of tradition learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13b)…” Even when Israel ostensibly followed His Law, their wayward hearts declared disobedience. We can never please God while we caress the filthiness that clings to our hearts.
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats…[b]ring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them…[w]ash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:11–17).”
Seek justice, learn to do good, reprove the ruthless, cease to do evil, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Notice God did not stop at “be just,” “do good,” “don’t be ruthless,” etc. “Seek,” “learn,” and “reprove” unanimously declare the inclination of our heart toward these things. Is our heart attitude “What can I get away with?” or “How can I best please God in this circumstance?” If it is the first, we are guilty of impurity. Joshua Harris defined purity as “…a direction, a persistent, determined pursuit of righteousness…[which] flees opportunities for compromise (Harris 88).”1
A direction. Not a destination. The moment we become content to barely appease God is when we give Satan the wheel to drive us down the “slippery slope” to greater evils. I repeat, it is not for fear that we avoid evil, but for our love of God and fellow men that we sanctify ourselves from the rot and stench of immoral artwork. Let us be faithful to God with our artistic choices, for He surely honors those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30b).
Harris, Joshua. I Kissed Dating Goodbye. 1997. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Multnomah, 2003. Print. ↩