Three Letters Say A Lot
Three letters can convey a vast amount of information: USA. FBI. JFK. Each of these short acronyms is significant to Americans. I’d like to share with you a less widely known, but even more significant set of three letters: SDG.
No, this doesn’t stand for “Students Doing Good” or anything else in the English speaking world, SDG is the acronym for three Latin words: Soli Deo Gloria, which translates to: “Glory to God alone.”
Johann Sebastian Bach scribbled these three letters—SDG—at the bottom of virtually all his musical compositions. Why is this significant? As a pianist and as someone who studied Music Theory for four years in college, I believe Bach is one of the top three musical minds in the western world. His creativity, skill, and craftsmanship are unrivaled. And yet, as this singularly productive and clever composer finished each piece of music, Bach’s chosen way to finish was with those three powerful letters: SDG. Glory to God Alone.
JS Bach was born in Germany a little more than 100 years after Martin Luther had died. Bach inherited this idea of “Glory to God” as one of the best parts of the Lutheran tradition. This is saying something since Luther’s influence on Germany was unrivaled by Bach’s day.
Consider: when Luther was in hiding for fear of his life for a 10-month period, he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. Luther’s translation is hugely significant for a few reasons: On a linguistic level, it is a masterpiece. On a cultural level, it was the tipping point in a rebirth of literacy and education in Europe. On a spiritual level, it exposed millions to the Word of God. In Luther’s lifetime, one printer from his hometown reeled off more than 100,000 copies. Luther’s translation was read by millions.
One of Luther’s contemporaries put the influence of this translation this way (forgive the sexism. The quote is 500 years old, and the world a different place).
“Luther's New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity." - Johann Cochlaeus, 1479-1552
Care to guess how much money Luther made off being the best-selling author and writer of the entire 16th-century? ZERO! Zero financial gain for being a literary and poetic genius. Zero financial gain for starting an educational revolution. Zero financial gain for catalyzing a spiritual reformation? Why didn’t Brother Martin fight for what was due him as an author and translator? SDG. Those powerful three letters. Glory to God alone.
I would like to recommend a revival of these three powerful letters, SDG. Given that few of us know any Latin these days, I don’t think it’s going to work! As an alternative, I’d like to offer this modern substitute instead: G2G. That’s right, a contemporary shorthand for “Glory to God.” What if we started scribbling this little three character inscription on our emails, or on our sticky notes, or on our work memos? My goodness! G2G.
Glory is a profound concept and hard one to pin down in just a few words. This Sunday’s sermon on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Great Reformation will explore the theology of glory. I’ll try to put it succinctly here. Glory is more than fame. It’s more than victory. Glory is greater than excellence or being a winner. True glory combines elements of love and power. That’s the recipe in the Bible. Love + Power = Glory. Power alone can produce great conquests and achievements, but they are hollow without love. Love alone can produce deep connection and sentiment, but without the sinews of true strength, it does not endure. Glory has a maximum measure of both. The cross of Jesus is the shining example of self-giving love. The empty tomb of the Risen Christ is the greatest sign of divine power. Put them together and the result is Glory. Love + Power = Glory. The Cross + the empty tomb = Glory. G2G!