Arguing Over God’s Music

To God, we probably sound like children on the playground as we quarrel over worship styles.

Hymns vs worship songs. Pipe organs vs electric guitars. Drums or not. Choirs or not. 85 dB vs 100 dB (or louder). 1-4-5 vs b9ths, b13ths and all manners of 7ths. Honestly, it all must sound pretty juvenile once it reaches the ears of heaven. The fact is, none of us has any idea what God’s music sounds like—yet.

Fallen Man, Fallen Music

As we analyze the sound waves that produce musical pitches and as we research the development of music throughout history, we find that our present 12-tone scale is built on compromise. In other words, all hymns, worship songs, and all other Western/European musical works based on the 12-tone equal tempered scale are (in pure terms) out-of-tune and flawed from their foundation. One of my college music professors, an exceptional church organist and piano tuner, put it simply, “You can tune one interval so that it sounds heavenly, but it throws the rest of the scale completely off.” So we accept the compromise, and gradually, our ears have adjusted.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above…

-From the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” by Robert Robinson and John Wyeth

But once we get to heaven, and the laws of Physics no longer apply, we will undoubtedly hear a music so pure, so beautiful, and so completely unlike anything we’ve ever heard down here. And that experience will hopefully wipe away the memory of flawed arguments over flawed styles in a flawed world.

What about Now?

Right now, we need to acknowledge that God’s music is undoubtedly higher than ours, yet He calls us to worship Him with our music anyway. Flaws and all.

Not many of us listen to the typical children’s choir for musical reasons. The songs are usually simplistic and the voices are usually off-key (even to our ears). But the joy and exuberance beaming from little faces can bring a smile to the face and heart of any father. That’s what God wants from us. To hear His children sing from a pure and devoted heart, He is apparently willing to set aside the perfect music of heaven and endure even the most excruciating of His children’s choirs.

In his book Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis ends his chapter “On Church Music” by saying, “For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.” In his book, Jubilate, Don Hustad paraphrases Lewis by writing, “It is more realistic to see Him as a loving Father whose toddler brings him a page of childish scribblings. ‘Look, Daddy, isn’t it pretty?’ ‘Yes darling, it’s lovely. We’ll fasten it on the refrigerator so everyone can enjoy it.’ ”

So if the scores to Handel’s Messiah or Beethoven’s Fifth only qualify as God’s “refrigerator art,” we reach new levels of audacity by thinking that we can determine what does and does not qualify as His music.

In time, He will show us what real music is. For now, He just wants His children to stop quarreling. And just sing.

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As a songwriter, worship leader and a member of the marketing team, Paul is connected to CCLI in every possible way.

Paul serves as CCLI’s Content Creator in the U.S. Service Center in Vancouver, Washington. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from George Fox University and has served as a marketing/communications specialist and a worship leader for a number of churches and ministries.

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