Last night I had the privilege of attending a musical performance by Olivet Nazarine University’s Orpheus Choir, and I must say it was an absolutely stunning performance! The concert was mostly a cappella with only a few songs utilizing minimal instrumental accompaniment on a piano. The choir consisted of an estimated 40-50 students (give or take based upon my limited memory), and the selection included a wide variety of sacred songs ranging from classical hymns from Luther and Wesley, as well as contemporary orchestrations of scripture put to music. The performance also included a short intermission for the singers to rest and refresh their voices, during which two students performed an instrumental duet on piano and violin that literally brought tears to my eyes. All in all, it was a spectacular performance that sparked much thought and stirred my soul, reminding me of particular aspects of worship that are often overlooked, yet essential to our joy in God. I’d like to share some of my reflections on the performance, and how it has impacted my understanding of worship.
As I listened to the incredible convergence of human voices blend to form such beautiful complex melodies and harmony, I was filled with such a sense of awe in regards to the beauty of what God has created. Everything about the performance was, at least for me personally, a reflection of the glory and beauty of God as the great Creator. All throughout the singing and playing, all I could think was “dear goodness, God is amazing!” I couldn’t help but think of how music is one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us, which is sadly too often taken for granted. I was reminded that God is not just an architect, but also an artist. He creates not just with form and function, but also with beauty. It is God who deliberately and purposefully designed the particles in various materials to vibrate and dance in just the right pattern and rhythm as to cause the audible tones that form musical notes to travel from an instrument or a voice to the ears of those who hear it. It is God who designed molecules of the atmosphere to be moved in rhythmic waves when strings are plucked, drums are struck, or a voice begins to sing. It is God who is the grand composer, conducting the ultimate symphony of His grand creation as it moves in response to His every command in perfect unity, harmony, tempo, and rhythm. It is God who is the superlative musician!
Yet, as amazing as the idea of God’s creation being this superlative artistic masterpiece, there’s something else that struck my mind as I was listening to this wonderful musical performance. God created man in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), which means that human beings also possess many aspects of God’s being (though obviously nowhere near as grand in magnitude), such as rationality, a moral conscience, as well as creativity and a sense of beauty. No other creature that God created has these qualities, and in that sense man is unique in nature in comparison to the rest of creation. Because we are created in God’s likeness, we mimic our creator in many ways. We mimic God’s order and purpose in our reasoning and rationality. We mimic God’s authority in our dominion over the earth. But we also share in God’s sense of beauty and creative nature as we also desire to create things that are beautiful. We use our minds to design, sculpt, craft, and create things that are pleasing to the eye, delicious to the tongue, intriguing to the nose, exciting to the touch, and in this particular context – soothing to the ear. It is nothing short of fascinating to see just how God’s creation relates and even partners with God in creating things that are beautiful. In the context of music, God first creates a world in which sound is made possible in the way matter interacts with itself through a progression of time. God then creates man in His likeness with rationality, logic, reasoning, creativity, and a sense of beauty. Man then discovers sound by experimenting with the various elements of creation and over time using reason and logic discovers patterns such as notation scales, time signatures, rhythmic patterns, accents. Man discovers different materials make different sounds when he experiments with metals, woods, strings, skins. We use the gifts of rationality, reason, creativity, and a sense of beauty to discover all these things about the world God has created, and in doing so learn how to manipulate various elements of God’s creation to create a work of our own that is beautiful. This became most apparent to me during the piano / violin duet. God created the materials of various woods, strings, metals, and such, and man then used the creativity and reasoning that God blessed him with to fashion those materials into instruments that create beautiful sounds of music. Thus, God positioned man in his uniqueness to discover this wonderful gift of music, and then over time learn how to utilize all these elements of sound and rhythm and theory into songs, and then offer our artistic creation back to God as an expression of our worship unto Him! It is nothing less than stunningly beautiful to see how God gives gifts to us so that we may share in the pleasure of using those gifts to create gifts of our own to offer back to Him!
My natural tendencies are to approach my Christian faith largely from an academic and rational standpoint, placing a heavy emphasis on correct doctrine and sound reasoning. I study matters of theology and apologetics, exegeting the scriptures and attempting to unearth the literary, cultural, historical, and even geographical contexts in effort to attempt to understand the author’s message for us as believers. And while all these things are essential to preserving “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3),” I must confess that many times I am so absorbed in the knowledge of God that I often fail to see the beauty of God. Understanding God and experiencing him in relationship is not merely the product of collecting and assembling the correct facts into a system of belief. God’s creation is full of beauty that engages us in every aspect of sensation from sight, to smell, to taste, to feeling, to hearing, and it all reflects the glory and beauty of Him as the creator.
While we worship this great and glorious God of ours through study and devotion, I have been reminded that sometimes simply stopping to listen to the music and allow it to stir our souls in adoration and amazement of Him is just as much an act of worship as anything else.