Why Sing Together? 3: Imaging the Triune God

27Dec09

In my last post, I argued that music is inherently “relational,” for lack of a better term.  The actual physics of music are such that music asks us to collaborate, to blend our many voices into one voice.  But why did God make music this way?

Today, I will suggest that God made music relational in order to help us be relational.  Or, said differently,  God gave us music to help us experience something we were fundamentally designed to enjoy as beings who image a Triune God–fellowship and harmony.

Why did God create music the way He did?   I’m going to give two answers and expound them in turn.  I believe God gave music as a gift to humankind 1) to show us He is beautiful/good, and 2) to help us participate in fellowship similar to that of the Trinity.

1) God made music to show us He is beautiful and good.

Like music, God is unity among diversity.  Three persons in one God.  This is the Doctrine of the Trinity.  (And some theologians have drawn parallels between the Trinity and music; notably, Jeremy Begbie, formerly at Cambridge and now lecturing at Duke Divinity).

In other words, music illuminates and hints at the character of God Himself; He  wrote His own nature into it. God is the ultimate beautiful display of unity among diversity, and He modeled the building blocks of music after Himself.  Therefore, when we hear musical notes calling one another out, forming beautiful chords, and blending in a harmony so tight that it sounds like one voice, we are hearing God’s own nature reflected.  When we hear beautiful harmony and recognize it as beautiful and good, when we marvel at music, we are in some ways, marveling at the beauty of God.  And God is glorified because it’s really His own beauty that we are hearing and praising.

That’s one answer to the “why?” question: God made music relational in order to illuminate His own beauty as a Triune, relational being.  And yes, we can therefore glorify Him by simply enjoying good music without participating in it.  But this is not all that music does.  God also made music to draw us into that harmony, to help us participate in the beauty of unity among diversity.

2) God gave us music to help us participate in fellowship similar to that of the Trinity.

This same God who has harmony and fellowship within Himself actually created human beings to participate in the same sort of harmonious fellowship.  God created us “in His image,” to be like Him in some important ways.  Being made “in the image of God,” certainly has a lot of meanings and implications; so I don’t want to pretend this is the only one.  But it is certainly not less than this: God made us to connect and be united with Him and with other persons.  As God is intrinsically relational, so are we to be. We are designed for unity among diversity, for fellowship and communion.  (This is evidenced when we experience we experience moments of deep unity with other persons and find that it brings delight to our souls.)

But what does this mean with respect to music?  It means that we were created to make music together.  This is not limited to musicians, not just the few who seem to be specially gifted.  God made all human beings in His image.  All of us were created to experience the Trinitarian life of God through harmony with other persons.  Think about it: what is the one thing the Bible clearly says we will all be doing throughout eternity?  Singing.  Making music to God.  This is a core human activity and a gift for all beings made in His image.

God went to all the trouble to build the physical universe like it is so that music would exist, so that notes would harmonize with each other and please our ears, so that we would be drawn into making music together.  God did not have to do all this.  But He did, so that we humans might better experience the transcendent joy of being many yet one at the same time, having multiple distinct voices blended into one, harmonious whole.

God gave music as a gift to all human beings to help us experience the beautiful unity among diversity for which we were created.  Of course, some people find it easier to do this than others.  Some kids are prodigies and start playing the piano at age 4; others struggle to sing along with even the simplest of songs.  But God gave music to all of us; and it’s for our enjoyment and edification.  It is an echo, a hint of what we were created for ultimately–union, fellowship, connection, with God and with others.

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4 Responses to “Why Sing Together? 3: Imaging the Triune God”

  1. 1 Reid

    W
    Central to our friendship is music and sharing music with each other. It’s very relational. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  2. 2 Andrew

    Hey Wendell,

    Couple quick thoughts:

    1) I love Rublev’s icon that you used.
    2) I get the points that you’re making, but some of the terms (“unity among diversity” for instance) are more predominantly used in theological discussions and don’t really have a meaning in musical ones. Perhaps you could flesh out what you mean by that.
    3) One thing that we might want to keep in mind in all of these discussions is that Western music as we know it is a really modern invention. How do these discussions fit with world music and ancient music (for which we really don’t know what it sounded like, but it sounded radically different than what we think of as music)?

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Conveying “unity in diversity” was one of the first projects had as a freshman art major. It first has visual meaning to me, so it is interesting to wonder what the same concept would look like in music or theology.

  4. 4 Bob Quinlan

    Hi Wendell,
    Nice meeting you at dinner in Couthouse. I like your thoughts on the role of music in affecting relation. I’m thinking about the relations that are brought about and how to bring them about. I may get the terms wrong so correct the m if you know them if you like. I’ll have to finish on a larger screen as the phone gives a limited view. I think the point is to grasp what the modes are that allow for participation that affects a sense of unity that is conducive to being realized in the Holy Spirit.
    Dialogue like: more relational than call and response as far ad the text
    Call and response
    Counterpontal
    1. Simultaneous: singing the same melody


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