I love music. I once considered becoming a professional musician. My diverse playlist includes classical, jazz, classic country, bluegrass and classic rock. Music helps me think. It helps me relax. But most importantly, music reminds me that we are made in God’s image.
Music is a gift from God and allows us to participate in creative activity.
Music isn’t just important to me, though. It is featured prominently throughout Scripture. The Bible references singing and the playing of instruments, and both are closely tied to worshipping God.
After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites sang to the Lord (Exodus 15), and singing was an integral part of Israel’s worship in both the Tabernacle and the Temple (1 Chronicles 6:31-32; 16:42). The Psalter also shows that in times of praise and joy as well as times of sorrow and lament the people raise their voices to God in song.
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples practiced the singing of hymns (Matt 26:30), and Paul wrote to the Ephesian and Colossian churches to speak to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs while singing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16-17).
Music was important then. But should it be important to us today? Absolutely — and here are some reasons why.
1. Creating music reflects the order, beauty and diversity of creation.
How many types of music do you know about? How many songs are you familiar with? The musical library we have in Western music is vast — and it is almost completely made up of 12 notes. Part of the Imago Dei is our ability to create a vast amount of beautiful music out of such a small resource. The act of creating music reflects the order, beauty and diversity that God has woven into creation.
2. Creating music brings glory to God.
Johann Sebastian Bach signed all his manuscripts with S.D.G. which abbreviates Soli Deo Gloria: To the Glory of God Alone. For Bach, any time he was playing music his soul was praising God. He once said that he “played the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.” Bach was not only a master composer, he was a brilliant organist and improviser (like modern-day Jazz musicians). In Bach’s time, the organist was like the shredding guitarists of the day. They were musical super-stars, and many people would gather to listen to a virtuoso organist improvise and weave intricate lines of music together in glorious polyphony. It’s likely that most of the music Bach created was never written down, and will never be heard again.
Whenever Bach set out to write a new piece of music he would bow his head and pray: “Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people.” Bach composed, performed and improvised much music, and all of it was done to the glory of God alone.
3. Music can convey emotions better than words.
In his Republic Plato spends a generous amount of time discussing the modes (scales) which would be appropriate for the guardians. Plato felt that the right music was important because it finds its way into the inward places of the soul. Plato preferred modes which fostered temperance and courage, and he discouraged other modes. Augustine worried about deriving too much pleasure from music and expressed concern over music’s ability to arouse feelings and emotion. In other words, Augustine acknowledged that music connects to deeper parts of our emotions and soul.
When we play music to the glory of God, we can communicate our emotions to him, just as we would in prayer. Music also has healing power. Have you ever heard one of your favorite songs or pieces of music and felt better afterwards? No matter if it is a secular composition or a sacred hymn, God can use music in our lives to make us happier. Music can coney emotions, oftentimes better than words can.
When listening to music, don’t let it just be background noise. Let it be a reminder that music is a wonderful gift from God and reflects our wonderful gift of creativity which is given to us as part of the imago Dei. Music mattered then, and music matters today.