Monday, November 26, 2012

Start Of An Incarnational Theology Of Worship Based In The Imago Dei

Worship, whatever else it is, is proclaiming the glory of God. It is telling the truth of the greatness of the creator.

My understanding of what the image of God is is somewhat different from a more dominant understanding. The more dominant understanding that I grew up with and most are likely familiar with takes image language to refer to something like the reflection in a mirror as if we are a sort of reflection of God. This in turn is understood in terms of  human attributes that match divine attributes: creativity, rationality, freedom, etc. Though I believe there is some merit to this it misses the main thrust. The image language in genesis has more to do with idols than reflections. This becomes clear when we read about God’s making of man in genesis against its contemporary cultural background. In that cultural context we need to remember that idols are not inherently evil rather they were understood as the very presence of the god they represent. That is what it is to be the image of God. It is to be the very presence of God in this world. The indwelling of the breath of God whereby the man became a living being produces this existence as presence.

In the fall we died. We lost that which made us living beings. We lost the spirit of the living creator that made us his presence in the world.

To be what we were created to be is the foundation of worship. As the actual presence of God in the world we inherently manifest God. We proclaim the creator. It is to naturally participate in God’s own self-proclamation through us. Our true being is to effectively demonstrate the greatness of God in the world.

This is only possible if we are the living beings we were created to be. Thanks be to God that he has redeemed us from death and sent his Spirit again to again create us as his presence in the world.
This is the foundation of all worship. Truly, we are to live lives of worship. We, being filled with the breath of God, live as his presence in this world. We proclaim the glory of God by walking by the spirit that makes us his presence. God’s own glory shines as he is present in the world through us who are living beings by the quickening of his breath. Our entire life is worship.

Nepali, Lahu/Shan, Burmese, working the tunes
The specific case of music is special. God created us as humans. With the indwelling of the Spirit we are living beings, truly human in the original sense. All that he created us to be is good and proper. It is absolutely not the case that the physical and that which essentially comes from it are inferior to the spiritual. God created us physical and said it was good. Who are we to disagree? This is important to recognize in all of life but it is particularly important in understanding worship in terms of music. We are complex beings with a huge range of capacities, physical, mental, etc. Music, more than anything else we do, has the capacity to engage and activate the full spectrum of those capacities. Good music engages more of these capacities more effectively and more integratively than bad music. Now it should be noted that I am making a quality distinction and not a moral distinction. You can have morally acceptable music that is crap. You can also have morally damaging music that is powerful and well done. The quality of music is a function of its ability to integrate and activate the full spectrum of human capacities.

So music as worship has the potential to activate and integrate the fullness of the human presence of God, more so than any other activity. Intellect, skill, emotions, aesthetics, physicality, the better the music the more fully the fullness is expressed. That is to say that the quality of music as worship is judged by the degree to which it activates and integrates the fullness of this truly human expression of the glory of God.

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