J.S. Bach often scribbled Soli Deo Gloria at the end of his music: glory to God alone. His humble dedications are beautiful—and striking because of his genius—but they have always left me with niggling questions. We are all called to dedicate our work to the glory of God, but what if we don’t have any glittering keyboard suites on hand? What if all we have to offer just…isn’t great? After all, it doesn’t seem quite the same typing Soli Deo Gloria on an under-baked thesis as it would writing it at the end of a masterly cantata…
It would be lovely to do something brilliantly and be able to make God a ‘big’ offering, but I am aware that pride lurks here. Am I wanting to ‘do God a favour’? To impress him with a splendid gift? I am reminded of David’s offer to build God a temple in 2 Samuel 7: David thought he’d do something great for God, to give him glory and honour. But God’s response was surprising to both David and the prophet Nathan: ‘No.’ God answered, ‘I don’t need your gift. I will do something great for you instead…’
God didn’t need David’s fine architecture—or Bach’s talent at an organ keyboard, for that matter. So why would he need my skill at a computer keyboard? As a Christian, I am called to cast my crown at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10), but when I do so, I shouldn’t be worried about how much it weighs. That would be the very opposite of humility!
Christ has accomplished all, and I can add nothing. Wonderfully, he has freed me from having to build my own portfolio of excellence, because that isn’t where my identity was in the first place. God wants my all and my best: but miraculously, he needs nothing else…not even a fugue or an extraordinary dissertation.
Humanly, I find Bach’s humble dedications remarkable because I consider him to be great; they would be pleasing to God, however, only because Bach didn’t consider himself to be great. Bach’s relationship with God was never dependent on his performance—moral or musical. As with the widow giving her two pennies (Mark 12:41-4), it was not the size of his gift that mattered, but the humility with which it was tendered.
There is freedom here. Soli Deo Gloria.
Georgina Prineppi is a doctoral student at Oxford studying popular music in Britain.