If you’re a music lover you may have experienced at least one of those sublime moments while listening to a piece of music when you sense the presence of God, and when you’re convinced that the music must have been inspired…
(Apologies to my long-term readers: this is a version of a post I wrote a few years ago: I felt it deserved another airing)
Of course, the ultimate purpose of music is the worship of our Creator, but I’ve enjoyed that sensation many times with many different kinds of music-sacred and secular. No-one could persuade me that Beethoven’s hand and mind were not guided to write “Moonlight Sonata”, or that Liszt was not similarly driven to pen “Consolation No. 3”. Could Debussey’s “Claire de Lune” have been the product of chance and time – the emission of a creature evolved from nothing? Ridiculous! I even experience the feeling occasionally in Electronica, Jazz, Surf, or “Classic Rock”. You may get the buzz from something very different, but I know it’s a fairly common phenomenon: I’ve heard people say that they feel close to God when they hear certain music.
I’m not saying that every time someone has this feeling it’s because God is giving it to them, or that the music they’re listening to is necessarily inspired by God: it can be caused by a number of different things. God has made humans creative, and he’s arranged the physical universe so that we can enjoy music. He’s given us the ability to make it, hear it, decipher it and experience pleasure from it. However it’s not always him writing it, and it’s not only believers who get that buzz, because we were all created to be able to enjoy what he’s made.
Scripture suggests that our Enemy is an inspirer, writer, and a shaper of music. You don’t have to hear much modern music to notice that. So how do we tell the difference between what God inspired, what man has contrived through talent alone, and what our enemy is using? The result of our listening experience is one clear indicator. If it leaves us feeling empty, angry, insufficient, incomplete, suicidal, or like doing something we know is against God’s will it’s certainly not from God.
I’m sure that most often the music was contrived by the mind of man, with God-given creativity. However, I’m convinced that sometimes that feeling, that emotion, that buzz is a physical sign the Spirit of God is ministering to us.
I’m a predominantly melancholy sort of character, and people who aren’t made that way may not understand my following ramblings, but I’m attempting to illustrate what I want to convey. I listen to almost all kinds of music, but I usually find that melancholy music is my ticket and my courier to peace, rest, resolution, hope and faith. It connects with my inner being. It unlocks my soul and opens it up to be repaired, cleansed, refreshed and loved.
I was listening to Philip Glass’s “Solo Piano” recently. His music – not his most repetitive material but the more melodic music-moves me to tears sometimes. Glass not only stirs my melancholy emotions and keeps them stirred, but takes my heart down to the depths of my soul and makes it wallow there for some considerable time. Part of what gets to me in his music is the simplicity, the understatement, and the masterful control amidst those perfectly selected minor scale intervals and chord changes: a delicious touch of minimalism. And more than that, there’s the knowledge that in order to write that very piece which touches my soul the composer and musician must also experience very similar feelings to my own.
Perhaps Glass does not have similar beliefs to mine, I don’t know, but no matter, because God can speak through a gentle breeze, a donkey, a storm, or an unbeliever. We drive cars designed and made by unbelievers, we wear clothes designed and made by unbelievers, we watch movies conceived and made by unbelievers, so why not listen to some beautiful music created by unbelievers?
Philip was sending waves of sensations down my back and through my body, making my hair stand up. But beyond the physical, he was connecting with my psyche, my soul. Unwittingly perhaps, he was causing me to think something along these lines:
“There is a God! God is incomprehensibly creative and powerful! He is in ultimate control of this universe, both the physical and spiritual. And since there is such a God, one day all things will be as they should be!”
Now, some people are going to listen to the very same music and after two measures proclaim: “This is boring! This is depressing! This is garbage!”
I wrote once that I wished there were far more real variety in Christian music to reflect God’s creativity. Thankfully, contrary to what some would have us think, he didn’t create one kind of music wishing to force-feed us with it. Instead, we find that we all have differing tastes: music I like may be detestable to you, and although you may find it hard to believe, your kind of music may be detestable to me. But here’s one of my main points: God made us all different intentionally, and it’s okay to have different tastes. It’s not sinful to politely dislike what others think you should like.
Even better, God can speak to us individually in what moves us but what may not move others, because somehow there is a universal “language” behind music-behind our conscious minds-and music is just an interface that translates between us and the spirit world what our very finite human brains cannot process into expressible logic.
In heaven, yes, everyone will sing together. But oh what music! Oh what songs! The Inspirer of “Moonlight Sonata” and “The Alleluia Chorus” has something even better in store for those of us who want to praise Him for ever.
I personally prefer to listen to instrumental music. I find that most lyrics are contrived and dull, unable to really express what needs to be said. So many songs say so little, but music alone can be free to let that language of the spirit do its work for me, unhindered.
Paradoxically, there is a song which brilliantly expresses the conundrum of words being inadequate, backed with musicianship which suitably amplifies the frustration expressed in the lyrics. Andy Partridge with XTC, in his song “No Language in Our Lungs” laments that we humans are unable to adequately put into words our deepest and most profound thoughts and feelings.
It’s unfortunate for Andy and so for us all who could greatly benefit from a genuine song-writing talent like his if he were a believer, that while the spirit language of music is free to work through his talent to minister to others, and even though he may well sense something beyond the music, his agnosticism/ atheism prevents it ministering to him to the extent that it should. Oh the dreadful irony!
Even more ironic is the fact that Andy’s words “There is no language in our lungs to tell the world what’s in our hearts” are actually in agreement with the word of God.
THE SCRIPTURAL CONNECTION
The apostle Paul also observed that there are times when we’re unable to put into words what needs to be said. However, says Paul:
“The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26, 27).
Linking Paul’s point with mine, it’s my belief that the Spirit does indeed pray for us, not only when we’re on our knees in meditation and supplication, but often when we’re being repaired, cleansed, refreshed, serenaded and loved, through a beautiful piece of music.