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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“A Global Slaughter of Christians…”

The events of this past week or so have been harrowing. Kirsten Power’s article, A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent, is a helpful – but uneasy – read. She calls for American churches to be galvanised into action. But non-American Christians alike must certainly do something; at the very least speak up to raise awareness, or simply pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith.

In light of these events I am reminded of Hebrews 11:35ff. In Hebrews 11, the writer to the Hebrews is talking about the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to the faith (12:1), who chose to place their trust in God to keep His promise to them of eternal rest and fellowship with Him. Together with the “giants” of the faith such as Abraham and Moses, the writer to the Hebrews mentions some other unnamed heroes:

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:35b-38)

The culmination of Hebrews 11 is the great statement of encouragement in the first verses of the next chapter:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)

My brothers and sisters who have been ‘slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded’ (K. Powers) for Christ, thank you for witnessing to the faith. Thank you for giving me greater impetus to ‘run with endurance, […] looking to Jesus’. And for those who continue to suffer under intense persecution, I will be praying for you, everyday. 

“Hey Worship Leader, Are You a Theological Lightweight?”

Ronnie Martin, “Hey Worship Leader, Are You A Theological Lightweight?”

Why do we think it’s ok for someone who barely knows God’s Word to lead God’s people in singing the excellency of His Words? Too harsh? Or have we simply produced a generation of worship leaders who are musically adept at singing and playing but spiritually inept at reading and praying?

Why have I, a foreigner, found favour in your eyes?

Why have I found favour in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?

The above verse speaks of the grace of God in saving us who were once his enemies. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6, 8b)

The above verse also speaks of God’s mercy to us as Gentiles (non-Jews), once excluded from His covenant people. “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision”… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11-13)

One might find it surprising, then, that the above verse comes from the Old Testament; and in particular, from the book of Ruth chapter 2, verse 10. Ruth was a Moabite widow, a foreigner in the land of Israel, and most Jews would have reviled at her Moabite heritage (cf Gen 19:30-38). She had followed her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem after the death of her husband and two sons.

While in Bethlehem, Boaz, a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ of her family, showed mercy to her. As a widow Ruth had no social support; and worse still, her only relative (Naomi) was also widowed. But Boaz allowed Ruth to glean in his fields, instructing his men not to touch her (thereby protecting her from any assault or abuse) (2:9); he provided food for her at mealtime (2:14) and water to drink (2:9); and he ensured that she would have enough food to glean (2:15-16).

Later on, as the narrative progresses, we learn that Boaz “redeems” Ruth, taking on her liabilities (and further risks of liabilities) as a widow. He later marries Ruth, taking her as his wife – giving her hope and security for the future.

Striking are the parallels between the narrative of Boaz and Ruth, and the narrative of Christ and us, His church. Christ has redeemed us, we who were unworthy and of no status to speak of whatsoever. He showed us grace. He took our liabilities, ‘by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:14). And He chose us as His bride, loving us and giving himself up for us (Eph 5:25ff).

How wonderful is the coherence of the Scriptures, the Word of God; how beautifully do we see Christ displayed even in this narrative of Ruth! Indeed, all Scripture speaks of Him (Luke 24:27). Together we can pray with Ruth, our forerunner in the faith:

Why have we found favour in your eyes, O Lord Jesus, that you should take notice of us – foreigners? 

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

How shall we explain these words? In what way did our Lord show “things concerning himself”, in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer to these questions is short and simple. Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head, — the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed, — the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, — the true scapegoat, — the true brazen serpent, — the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed, — the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus.

Let it be a settled principle in our minds, in reading the Bible, that Christ is the central sun of the whole book. So long as we keep Him in view, we shall never greatly err, in our search for spiritual knowledge. Once losing sight of Christ, we shall find the whole Bible dark and full of difficulty. The key of Bible knowledge is Jesus Christ.

– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol. 2), at 501

Let us learn a lesson from the two travellers to Emmaus. Let us speak of Jesus, when we are sitting in our houses and when we are walking by the way, whenever we can find a disciple to speak to. (Deut 6:7) If we believe we are journeying to a heaven where Christ will be the central object of every mind, let us begin to learn the manners of heaven, while we are yet upon earth. So doing we shall often have One with us whom our eyes will not see, but One who will make our hearts “burn within us” by blessing the conversation.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol. 2), at 499

It is meet and right beyond doubt that buildings set apart for Christian worship, should be worthy of the purpose for which they are used. Whatever is done for Christ ought to be well done. The house in which the Gospel is preached, and the Word of God read, and prayer offered up, ought to lack nothing that can make it comely and substantial. But let it never be forgotten that the material part of a Christian Church is by far the least important part of it. The fairest combinations of marble, and stone, and wood, and painted glass, are worthless in God’s sight, unless there is truth in the pulpit, and grace in the congregation. The dens and caves in which the early Christians used to meet, were probably far more beatufiul in the eyes of Christ, than the noblest cathedral that was ever reared by man. The temple in which the Lord Jesus delights most, is a broken and contrite heart, renewed by the Holy Ghost.

– J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol. 2), at 357.

Let us take comfort in the thought that in the long run of years the truth will always prevail. Its advocates may often be feeble, and their arguments very weak. But there is an inherent strength in the cause itself which keeps it alive. Bold infidels like Porphyry, and Julian, and Hobbes, and Hume, and Voltaire, and Payne arise from time to time and make a stir in the world. But they produce no lasting impression. They pass away like the Sadducees and go to their own place. The great evidences of Christianity remain like the Pyramids, unshaken and unmoved. The “gates of hell” shall never prevail against Christ’s truth. (Matt 16:18)

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Vol 2), at 338.