God and the Arts

Part 3: Music

By Kevin Stone

Thanks . . . to Whom?

In their 1977 song "Thank You for the Music," the Swedish group ABBA express their gratitude for all things musical. The lyrics, which address an unnamed Giver of Music, acknowledge that music is a gift that brings joy, and that, at the core, we are musical creatures. "What would life be?" the song asks. "Without a song or a dance, what are we?"

The song then raises some good questions concerning the origin of music: "I've often wondered, how did it all start? / Who found out that nothing can capture a heart / Like a melody can?" Lead vocalist Agnetha Fältskog gives a decidedly ambiguous answer: "Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan." The mysterious Muse is appreciated, but unknown.

Johann Sebastian Bach would have given the question "Who created music?" a very different answer. Bach once said, "I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music." No uncertainty there. No vague equivocations. The Giver of Music is God. At the beginning and end of each piece of sacred music he composed, Bach wrote the letters "S.D.G." an abbreviation of Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone"). Bach's dedication of each song was a simple acknowledgment of his view of the music's source.

From Heaven with Love

Both Bach and ABBA agree that music is a joyful thing. Both used music to communicate to the world. A key difference between them, besides the instruments they played, is their view of the origin of music. Bach saw music as a personal gift from the Creator of the universe. ABBA was curious enough to ask the question "who?" but then shrugged and concluded that it didn't really matter.

So, where does music come from? Biblically speaking, Bach was right. His assessment of music's origin was the same as David's, who said, "He has put a new song in my mouth" (Psalm 40:3). David sang, but it was God who made the music.

Music is a creation of God, a gift that He has bestowed upon humanity. Music was present at the creation of the world, when "the morning stars sang together" (Job 38:7). The Bible is full of songs. Whole books are dedicated to preserving the Spirit-inspired songs of God's people (Psalms, Song of Solomon). Many of the prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk, wrote songs as part of their oracles.

The inescapable conclusion is that God is a musical God, and He has made us musical creatures. Our ability to produce, understand, and enjoy music is evidence of God's image in us. Jesus sang with His disciples (Mark 14:26); God is depicted as singing for joy over His people (Zephaniah 3:17); when the Spirit fills a person, He brings a song with Him (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).

Many musicians practice their art without ever giving conscious tribute to the God who made music in the first place. Some of them, like ABBA, seem to be aware that music does not originate with them, but they carry on in happy ignorance of the divine Source of their gift. It is the Christian musician who knows the Giver of Music and willingly becomes an earthly sounding board to amplify the music of heaven.

Image Credit: Dan Diffendale; "Tambourine Player; Mid 6th c BCE"; Creative Commons

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Published 3-13-2012