on the enjoyment of music

I love music.

I wouldn’t know what I would do without it. I imagine it must be like living without colour: everything would have the appearance of varying degrees of black and white (and grey).

More than merely something to be enjoyed, I have found music to be a fascinating phenomenon. I have previously written about the connection between music and emotions (particularly nostalgia), but one question I often muse (heh) over is why human beings love music so much.

I recently came across an article by Gavin Ortlund which explores this very question. It is well worth reading in full (“The Real Reason You Love Music”), but of interest to me is Ortlund’s exploration of this question from a Christian worldview perspective. In a beautifully expressed passage, he says:

If a triune God created the world as a work of art—not out of necessity, but out of love and freedom—then music can be understood, along with everything beautiful in the world, as a faint reflection of the pre-temporal glory of God. It is a tiny echo of what was happening before time and space. What rhythm and harmony are trying to do, however imperfectly, is trace out something of that love and joy that has been forever pulsating between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Viewed in this way, music is not a distraction away from reality, but rather a clue toward it. It is not like an opiate to a man on his deathbed, but like a window to a man in a cellar—a light shining into the darkness, revealing something beyond. In this respect I associate music with art, reason, and sex. They are like little windows through which transcendence touches our lives, whispering to us of a world we have never dreamed.

In short, we as Christians we can readily acknowledge that music is a good gift from a creator God, given by Him for us to enjoy, and through which we can have a sense of transcendence beyond this world into true Reality: God Himself.

If our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him, is it any wonder that He has given us clues in this world — music, beauty, art, nostalgia — things which cause us to resonate with an “inconsolable longing” (as C.S. Lewis would put it) for the eternal?

This makes sense, somewhat, of why we are instructed to sing songs of praise to God (e.g. Psalms 30, 96). If music helps us to know Him, what better way to exalt Him than with it? Indeed, music and singing helps the word of God to dwell in us richly and fuels our joy in Christ (Colossians 3:16; cf Ephesians 5:19).

There are, of course, limits to how far this line of reasoning can go (which Ortlund himself recognises). For example, it is not the case that music proves the existence of God; nor can one truly know God through music (i.e. apart from the special revelation of God through His Son Jesus).

We need also to recognise the power that music has, and to wield it carefully. To seek transcendence apart from God is to court danger. Human beings are spiritual beings, so we naturally long for spiritual experiences; but not all such experiences are from the good God.

In conclusion, may we enjoy the good gift of music with thankful hearts, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart[s], giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5.19-20)

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Stay – Jimmy Needham feat. Lizi Bailey

Hi there, it’s me again.

It’s been a while; 658 days since I last posted anything, to be precise. I’ve been going through a really difficult period lately and thought blogging again might be a helpful catharsis.

May I ask you a question? Have you ever felt that momentary sense of joy in Jesus? It’s often just a fleeting moment — like the soft landing of a butterfly on a flower petal only to take off again — but it’s no less real or tangible.

I wanted to share a song with you, which I think captures this feeling so well. The rapture of knowing God; no, better than that — of being known by God himself.

Have a listen here on Spotify (or a short stripped out sample on YouTube). The rest of this post will make a lot more sense if you’ve listened to the song. Here are the lyrics (the post continues below):


You lead me like the dawning of the day
You lead me like April leads into May
You lead me like the stone you rolled away
You take my hand and we will run… away

Just like a child I rest upon your knee
Just like a song, your love, it sings to me
Beside your arms I find a symphony
You take my hand and then we run… away

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay… here

Remember all those years ago we met
All I recall are days of past regret
And you felt so far but I had never left
Just wanting you to take my hand… and run

To the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
I’d linger forever
If only I could stay
If only I could stay

In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper
In the place where my fears have no voice at all
The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call
This moment is frozen
I’m not going anywhere
Linger forever
If only I could stay
If I could stay… here


 

I could wax lyrical about this song: about its acoustic quality, about the lovely harmony between Jimmy and Lizi, about many other musical features.

But I just want to focus on how perfectly it captures the momentary sensation of rapture that the soul experiences when it is full of the joy of being known by God. It is like being transported “to the place where my fears have no voice at all / The only sound in my ear: the whisper of your call”. That moment is frozen; and you know that it’s you and the Lord Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, who has poured His love into your heart by the Spirit (Romans 5:5).

In the words of St Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

In those moments, your heart has found this rest.

Sadly, though, we know only too well that these moments are ephemeral, fleeting, temporary. You would “linger forever” if you could. But it just doesn’t work that way. It’s a bit like the Apostle Peter on the mount of transfiguration, yearning for Jesus, Elijah and Moses to stick around (Mark 9:2ff).

Thus the wistful tenor of the song: “If only I could stay…”

It’s what C.S. Lewis called an “inconsolable longing”; a “lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside” (the Weight of Glory).

But it’s not all bad. Captured so well in the third verse of the song is the great encouragement that the Holy Spirit is with us always as believers. When we are despondent, the Spirit (represented by Lizi in the song) says to us, “Remember all those those years ago we met?” Remember that moment when you knew it was Him? It may have been the night when you prayed to receive Jesus; it may have been that awe-full sense you had while meditating on Scripture; it may have been when you were on your knees singing in praise; indeed, it may have been in all of these moments.

How often do we think that God isn’t with us, just because that fleeting sense of joy has faded away! How easily we slip into thinking, “all I recall are days of past regret.” But the Spirit says, “You felt so far but I had never left / Just wanting you to take my hand.”

Indeed, he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

And so we do not lose heart (cf 2 Cor 4). We take courage and wait on the LORD, thanking Him for these moments of pure joy along the way, but longing eagerly for His return to rescue His bride.

And when He does, those moments of rapture — of pure joy — will no longer be fleeting. For we shall be with Him forever. He shall wipe away every tear from our eyes.