By Ben Swift
“Faith in God transcends reason as it flows from the heart and the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.” (Blaise Pascal)
It’s an interesting thing to stop and reflect on what it means for something to flow from the heart. Perhaps Pascal’s idea speaks to us because deep down we all struggle as human beings to align all of logic and reason with our human emotions. We are, after all, more closely related to Captain Kirk than to Spock. While we might know something to be true within our minds, our hearts can seem to whisper alternative words of wisdom into our being, often blurring the lines between the choices we must make.
There’s a popular saying in western society, “If it feels good, do it.” The problem with this saying is that short term, temporary pleasure can often lead to long term harm. It can lay the foundation to a path that subtly veers away from the heart of God. When it comes to opening windows to our souls, we must be careful about who and what we let in. John Lennon may have pointed us to seek Mother Mary for wisdom but the truth is better found in the Word of God.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4: 24-27)
When it comes to music, how are we to guard our hearts in this way?
Rock band ‘Kiss’ once filled the airways with the lyrics, “God gave rock and roll to you… put it in the soul of everyone.” While we could debate the truth of these words, there is something special about music; a divinely inspired art that alludes the analytical dissection of the neuroscientist’s scalpel. Music has the power to draw you in, speak to your inner being, call you to be a part of it and it a part of you.
For the Christian, one who seeks to live by the truth of Christ, this power that music holds can be both a source of enrichment but also of tension. Here lies the dilemma. When it comes to choosing our associations with music, where shall we draw our lines? And who gets to forge these lines, the self or God? And to top this off, how can we even tell who’s guiding the stick in the sand when almost every perspective can be justified with scriptural quotes manipulated to support a particular point of view?
When considering division within churches, music is surely one of the most common sources of division. But why? While there may be several explanations for this, the reason people feel so strongly when it comes to music is in the way it is played. These 12 notes in their various arrangements are closely tied to the emotions of the heart, whether we like to admit it or not. We could put on our Spock masks at this point and explain these musical tensions as generational biases or theological issues with the lyrics – both of which can hold some truth – but if we bail on Spock for a moment and invite Kirk back in, we will see more clearly that music is powerful in its ability to take us on different emotional journeys. While music may be soul food, not everybody thrives on the same diet.
As created human beings we have all been blessed with God-given potential in whatever form that might be. But if your potential is musical, how should your potential be developed and used? How far can you take and mold this potential before it is no longer about the glory of God but rather the glory of humanity? Surely these must eventually become the theological musings of all musos desiring to serve God?
When the philosophical dust settles however, it’s all about ‘glory’. If a star is born then let that star be a beacon that points to Christ. It’s not that Christ needs us to bring glory to himself or to the Father, rather it’s that we who have been called to him should feel compelled to acknowledge who he is and who we are in relation to him. The focus of how we live, the music we listen to and play, should be shaped in the light of this reality.
Let us remember that God lists joy amongst the fruits of the spirit. The joy that comes from music is a gift. Whether as a player or a listener, open up to some soul food. Let music do what it does best, expressing the reasonings of the heart that reason knows nothing about.
‘Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ (Martin Luther)