If you’re a music lover and a believer you’ve probably experienced at least one of those sublime moments while listening to a piece of music, when you feel that the Spirit of God is right there with you, and when you’re convinced that the music was inspired by Him. I’ve enjoyed that sensation many times, with many different kinds of music. 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 – a creature evolving from nothing via slime? Ridiculous! I even experience this feeling occasionally in Techno and other electronic music, 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 was necessarily inspired by God. It can be caused by drugs, or by our amazement at someone’s skill, or for a number of other reasons. I’ve experienced the feeling while watching the Blue Angels at an air show: their display was breath-taking. But God has made humans creative. He’s arranged the physical universe so that music can be enjoyed by humans. He’s given us the ability to make it, hear it, decipher it and experience pleasure from it, but it’s not always Him writing it, and it’s not only believers who get that buzz, because we are all created to be able to enjoy what He has made.
Scripture suggests that our Enemy is an inspirer, a 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 has inspired, what man has contrived, and what Satan is using? That’s not the subject of this blog post, except to say that the result of our listening experience is a clear indicator. Does it leave us feeling empty, angry, insufficient, incomplete, suicidal, or like doing something we know is against God’s will? Then it’s certain that God has not just spoken.
I’m sure that most often neither the Lord nor Satan wrote the music: it was contrived by the mind of man using God-given creativity.
However, I’m convinced that sometimes that feeling, that emotion, that buzz is a physical sign that the Spirit of God is ministering to us.
I once thought I heard God speak to me as a teenager while I was listening to Deep Purple. I said “What did you say? And he said “Turn it down!” It was my Dad.
Here’s a little joke:
(Those of you who don’t know his music will not understand, sorry).
I’m a predominantly melancholy sort of character, and people who are not may not understand my following ramblings, but I’m attempting to illustrate what I want to convey.
I was listening to Glass’s “Solo Piano” recently. His music – not the very repetitive material which inspired the joke, but his rather more melodic music – moves me to tears. While composers of the past would devote a few measures or perhaps a short piece to something in a minor key to stir the soul just a little, then bounce back to the lively, more cheerful clichés and movements, Glass not only stirs our melancholy emotions and keeps them stirred, but takes our hearts down to the depths of our souls and makes them wallow there for some considerable time. It was in one of these wallowing sessions that I observed within myself the emotions and thoughts evoked by the piece, and by the passionate sensitivity and sincerity of the piano playing.
I often listen to some very hard hitting, wild and fast euphoria-inducing 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.
Part of what gets to me in Glass’s 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 (what I have left) 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. 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 several weeks ago that I wish there were some real variety in Christian music to reflect God’s creativity. Thankfully, contrary to what some would have us think, He did not 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 the interface that translates between us and the spirit world what our very finite human brains cannot process.
In heaven, yes, everyone sings the same songs together. But oh what music! Oh what songs! The Inspirer of “Moonlight Sonata” and “The Alleluia Chorus” has something far 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 expresses the conundrum of words being inadequate. Andy Partridge of XTC wrote many brilliant songs later in his career, and the world has very few equals to his lyrical genius in my opinion. Not only so, but the accompanying music and the band’s musicianship amply complimented and reflected the message in his words. 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. In fact he sang:
“I want to write this instrumental but the words got in the way”.
Unfortunately for Andy and so for us all who could really benefit from a song-writing talent like his if he were a believer, while that spirit language is free to use his talent to minister to others, and while he may well sense something beyond the music, his agnosticism/ atheism prevents it ministering to him. 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 are 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).
As an aside, some Christians are convinced that Paul was here referring to the gift of “speaking in tongues”. If this were true, then Paul is saying that the Spirit only prays for Charismatics, which I totally reject. Paul had made it clear that tongues are (or should be) expressed in “words” (1 Corinthians 14: 19), whereas the Spirit prays in ways that “words cannot express”. Anyway, how could non-words be translated into words (1 Cor. 14: 13)? If tongues were non-words, interpreting the “inexpressible” in words would somehow defeat the purpose of the tongues in the first place, would it not?
No, it’s that which cannot be put into words which the Spirit is praying, and it is the Spirit praying, not the believer: that’s Paul’s point.
Linking Paul’s point with mine, it’s my belief that the Spirit does indeed pray for us, not only when we are on our knees in meditation and supplication, but often when we are being repaired, cleansed, refreshed, serenaded and loved, through a beautiful piece of music.