'Faces to the rising sun.' Isn't that pagan?

'We sang a song during a praise service, and the words were 'with my face to the rising sun'. My friend was very upset as she mentioned that it was pagan (maybe not the correct adjective); also that during the sanctuary service the slaughtering had to be done with the backs of the priests turned to the rising sun, as pagans worshipped facing the sun!!! Where do I find the text?' - Cecilia

The sun is the source of light for earth. Ancient people considered the sun as a necessary part of the cycle of the seasons. Thus, it was often viewed as a god. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun as the god Ra, and the Greeks as Helios.

The Bible simply views the sun as the greater light God created to rule the day (Genesis 1:16). In Israel, the new day began with sunset. The Psalms compared the sun's brightness to God's glory by which it will one day be replaced (Psalm 84:11). Zacharias described the coming of the Messiah as a new sunrise for humankind (Luke 1:78).

Someone who worshipped the sun had to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 17). The Word Search program on the computer did not find any Bible text that spells out that the sacrifice had to be brought with the backs of the priests  turned to the sun, though we looked under Sacrifice, Sun and East. The rising sun in the hymn most likely pointed to Christ, and we do agree that lines like that could give the wrong impression. Poets often use extraordinary vehicles to express their feelings and thoughts.

I hope that this is of some help to you.

Response from another listener:

Dear AWR:
I was quite surprised at the evasive answer Victor Hulbert gave to the questioner regarding the line in the hymn that refers to facing the rising sun. It made me wonder if he has read Ezekiel 8 where God told Ezekiel to look through the hole and see all the abominations that Israel's leaders were committing. Does he think that we as modern Israel are immune to such practices?? We don't like to think such thoughts, but . . . we are worse than they were. We are prone to think, 'No, this is not possible,' but how does God view us? Not that we are actually worshipping the sun, but is it possible we have other idols that we are letting come between us and our God?

In my opinion, it might have been better to admit that this particular hymn was an oversight and never should have been included in the hymnal. You know, we make mistakes, forgive us, and let's keep going, instead of manufacturing what it could possibly have said but didn't say.


Victor's reply:

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for sharing your concern with Adventist World Radio. I am wondering quite what you mean by 'an evasive answer.' To my mind the answer is balanced, looking briefly at both sides of the issue: i.e. noting that the sun has been a object of worship for many heathen nations - and that Deuteronomy 17 commanded that someone who worshipped the sun should be put to death - but equally noting that Bible writers have used the sun as an illustration of the glory of God.

Be careful about how you apply a passage like Ezekiel 8. The passage is talking about brazen idolatry. It would be like a Christian going to a New Age service or a spiritualist church - or, even worse, inviting such services and practices to take place in our own church. This is certainly something that God would condemn.

In my answer I pointed out that, 'The rising sun in the hymn most likely pointed to Christ, and we do agree that lines like that could give the wrong impression.'

This answer fits in well with Paul's council not to provide a stumbling block to those who are weak (1 Corinthians 8:4-13). Here he is talking about meat that has been bought in the market that that has probably been offered as a sacrifice to some pagan god before it is sold. Paul argues that if some are distressed because the food has been offered to an idol then you should not eat it - but if your faith is stronger than that, it doesn't matter, you can eat it, unless it causes a problem to the other person, causing them to fail. If we are doing something that gives the wrong impression to someone, then it is better not to do it. Using the same argument, then, yes, maybe you are wise in suggesting that it is not the best song to sing in church. While the song in itself may not be wrong, it is better not to cause offence when there is a whole myriad of other, better songs that may be available.

On the other hand, we must be careful not to take things too far. On that basis we might have to cross Psalm 121 out of the Bible, as the pagans worshipped on the top of hills, so how can I look up to them while worshipping the true God? I would also need to rename all the days of the week, as they were all named, originally, to remind me which pagan god I am supposed to worship most that day (SUNday, MOONday, WODENSday, THORsday etc).

Rather than worrying about these small things that have pagan connotations from the distant past, I agree totally with you that we should be looking at the things in our own lives that take our time and attention and make sure that they do not become 'idols' for us. These are many and varied, and Satan is certainly working hard to find things to distract us from 'fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith' (Hebrews 12:2). We need to ensure that we have the appropriate balance in our lives.

I appreciate your concern and commitment, and thank you for writing back. I hope this provided sufficient background for your query.

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