Lights, Emotions, and the Arts
by Pastor Terry Gee
Emotions are a tricky business. In one moment we can be giddy with laughter and only seconds later be filled with rage at the guy who cut us off on the freeway. We feel apathetic even when things are good. We’re sad and we don’t know why. Emotions cannot be trusted.
Or so we are told. But however we may feel about our emotions, the fact remains that we are emotional creatures, created as such by God who is, Himself, emotional. So the question becomes how are we supposed to deal with our emotions, particularly when it comes to worship?
EMOTIONS IN WORSHIP
Given their fluidity and subjectivity, our emotions sometimes receive a raised eyebrow of scrutiny when it comes to worship – and, at times, they should. Emotionalism, where the movement of emotions is the primary goal in devotion, will leave the worshiper empty. Emotional religious experience without substance of the truth, does not embody the worship of God we see in the Scriptures. So the mere moving of emotions does not constitute true worship.
Of course, neither does the reverse – right theology mixed with dead affections pleases no one in heaven either! Jesus, quoting Isaiah, indicted the religious leaders of the day saying that they “[honor God] with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matt 15:8).” The right words without the right heart did not please God any more than the passionate worshiper without the truth.
THE ARTS IN WORSHIP
This brings us to the use of the arts in worship. Can, and should, the arts be used to heighten our emotions in worship? Is this cheating or somehow disingenuous, as if God can see that our love for Him was not enough and needed a little help? Or can we legitimately use the arts in the service of worship?
We can certainly go too far – the arts becoming the center point of worship and drawing our eyes towards the medium rather than the object of our worship (God). But I would submit that an appropriate and purposeful use of the arts can support and adorn our worship in a way that betters our worship and increases our love in a completely legitimate way before God.
Take for a moment the use of music in worship. During Easter, is it right that we play songs that emphatically and passionately celebrate Jesus’resurrection? Does not that sort of music help our emotions to engage in a day that should be powerfully celebrated by God’s people? Imagine singing – no, chanting (no melody - just words in rhythm) the same songs. While we could still worship joyfully, wouldn’t it be different?
The use of arts in the heightening of emotions is well and good if the emotions they incite are godly in nature and bring about the purposes of God in our lives, perhaps, even more powerfully than could be without them. Should our love for God be truly increased to a hymn well sung and well played, we should be remiss if we did not use it to our advantage in loving God more! The use of arts should not be forsaken because they may move our emotions or be subject to abuse, but should be carefully considered as means to the greater end of whole-hearted, truth-centered, Spirit-empowered worship to the one true God, and when we find the arts doing this, they find their proper place in the worship of the church and ought to be used to that end to their fullest.
THE NEW LIGHTING
With that in place, let’s talk about lights. The intent of the recent lighting change in our service was not to merely move our emotions or prize a theatrical look for its modern, contextually savvy appearance. The intent was not to increase individualism or give off the vibe that Sunday service is now some sort of performance.
The use of different lighting was an attempt to use artistic means to further the purposes of our worship service – namely, that a real encounter with God by the people of God, through heartfelt songs of praise, reception of the word of God in preaching, and through prayer would result in glory given to God and the building up of the saints who gather. As much as lighting could help us engage with the service to that end, we sought to use it.
Softer lighting sets the place apart. When you enter into the sanctuary you know something is going to happen. We, as the people of God, are going to meet with God! This is not the same place as out in the foyer. The invitation is to joyfully anticipate and prepare for what is coming next.
The ability to focus was a primary goal. During worship, the words on the screen “pop” more, to increase ease of reading and clarity. With the lights lower, your eyes aren’t drawn to the kid making faces on your left. During the sermon, while the house lights are on to allow everyone to read their Bibles, the front right and left sections are left off, framing the center stage and drawing our attention to the preacher. The lights are intentionally being used to make it easier for you to engage with what is going on in the service.
A VEHICLE FOR THE GOSPEL
The use of the arts for the furtherance of our worship presents us with a unique opportunity for the advance of the gospel. While the arts themselves are not the gospel, they can be a vehicle for the gospel message, and I hope that the responsible use of them will contribute positively to our lives of worship in the long run and result in greater praise and glory given to God through the church.