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Soli Deo gloria: our true desire is the glory of god, but sometimes idolatry gets in the way.

It has been suggested, convincingly in my view, that at the core of all human identity lies desire. Consequently, what we direct our desires toward becomes our spirituality. In C.S. Lewis's brilliant essay, The Weight of Glory, he argues that the true end and fulfillment of our desires is the glory of God. Indeed, our deepest longings will be complete when we have fully entered into the glorious communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for eternity. That is the hope of glory.


Alas, we are also painfully aware that the story of human history is one of misplaced desire. That is, that human beings have aimed those deep yearnings towards many other alluring destinations which have promised glory, not the least of which is their own glory. Another word for this is idolatry. The scriptures narrate the story of God's people's ongoing struggle with idolatry, and God's relentless pursuit to win them back to their true home. This story, carried on through church history as misplaced longing, brought corruption and great wickedness. The Reformation was one of the times in that history, when God's people saw with great clarity that sometimes the church itself could become the object of idolatry, and the cry of soli deo gloria or "to God's glory alone" was an attempt to redirect our desires towards their true object, God and His glory.

I'm convinced that one of the best antidotes against idolatry is the regular gathering of the saints for corporate worship. I take it that one of my roles as a worship and praise leader is to bring people into an awareness of, submission to, and engagement with the glory of God simply because that is what God is due, but also because it forms us into a people who direct their desires towards their proper object.

I have found Psalm 8 to be a helpful guide to considering how we might think of worship and the glory of God. The psalm begins famously with the ascription of praise: "O, Lord our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens." Soli deo gloria is rooted in the truth that God is other. God is holy, powerful beyond our imagining and rules creation. The worship leader is responsible to help a congregation become aware of the centrality of God's majesty as something to behold with awe and wonder. These things can be accomplished through invitation to exuberant praise that has an extensive vocabulary of superlatives, metaphors, and adjectives that give us range for offering glory. But it also requires the opposite--silence; the importance of being still before God's majesty.

The psalmist continues with the reminder that God's glory is also the object of an infant's cries and gurgling (verse 2). I see this is as significant as the psalm unfolds. The contrast of God's glory juxtaposed with the babbling of a baby which silences the enemies of God's glory, says something about worship that flows out of the simple, childlike places of our humanity. But the psalm develops this beautiful mystery and contrast even further because the contemplation of God's glory invites consideration that human beings are insignificant (verse 4). It is critical that we pause here. It has saddened me to see the loss of confession in much contemporary liturgy, because of its perceived negativity. We must always be aware of our temptation toward, and complicity in, idolatry. A worship leader must not shy away from leading the people in confession of sin; confession humbles us, but also reminds us of the greater truth of what has become of us in Christ. Confession leads us to the gospel, the glory of salvation.

The psalmist continues by suggesting that human beings are not insignificant at all; they are created only a little lower than God and given responsibility to partner with God in caring for the creation (verses 5-8). What this leads me to conclude is something that Irenaeus of Lyons suggested many centuries before the Reformation: that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. There is a place in worship for us to honour the gift of being human. This can be done through the arts, eloquent communication, testimony of encounter with God during the week, celebration of the gifts represented amongst the body gathered. Human capacity for beauty and excellence properly offered to God with gratitude and humility returns us with the psalmist to the opening affirmation of the psalm--glory belongs to God alone!



The 16th-century Reformers--Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox and others--were derisively nicknamed, "the Sola-ists. "They distilled the essence of the gospel in five Latin slogans using the word sola, meaning only, solely or exclusively: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria (grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, to God's glory alone).

Today, the solas of early Protestantism run up against other realities and claims: What does it mean to say "Christ alone" in a multi-religious world? How does scripture alone square with contemporary thought about biblical interpretation? And so on. So, are we still sola-ists today?

Rev. Glen Soderholm is a Presbyterian minister and directs a cognate ministry of the church that seeks to encourage the people of God to participate in vibrant worship.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Soderholm, Glen
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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