The persistent demand throughout the Bible that people of faith sing loud may seem cruel to those whose musical gifts do not fill the buckets in which we cannot carry a tune. Come Christians, Join to Sing would be less threatening if it was Come Christians, Join to Talk. Come Christians, Join to Eat would be nice.
When we sing When in Our Music God is Glorified some of us assume God is more glorified by the people singing around us. The cacophonous among us have learned to sing off-key at a volume that does not draw attention, with a rhythm that only we recognize.
Fortunately for the disharmonious, singing, at least the kind of singing described in scripture, has little to do with quality of voice and everything to do with openness of spirit. The tone deaf in Colossae were glad to hear Paul say that their singing of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” was to take place “in your hearts.” Some of us find it comforting that singing is not about what gets to the ear, so much as it is about what penetrates our souls. Maybe every now and then pastors should sing solos just to make that clear.
We become too sensible to sing. We admire efficiency over spirit. We are preoccupied with what seems useful. Without a song in our hearts we become dull people. We baptize our grouchiness and call it maturity. The opposite of singing is not silence, but critical restraint.
God, deliver us from being rigid, clenched-teeth people who try to be more earnest than God. Faith gives us a lightness of spirit. Have you heard how it is that angels fly? G.K. Chesterton said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.” Conversely, someone suggested that Satan fell to hell by the sheer weight of gravity. He took himself so seriously.
If there is no music bursting within us, then we need to open ourselves to the joy God has offered. When you open the Bible you hear music: the prophet Miriam, tambourine in hand, singing at the Exodus; King David auditioning musicians to lead in worship; Psalmists writing symphonies for harps, lyres, trumpets, timbrels, strings, pipes, and loud clashing cymbals (never a mention of guiet, soothing cellos). The hymns of the early church are sprinkled through the New Testament. At the annunciation Mary bursts into the Magnificat. At Jesus’ birth a choir of angels break into song. Paul and Silas have favorite hymn night in prison. In Revelation, The Hallelujah Chorus ushers in the kingdom of God. On virtually every page, we hear the music of the holy that transcends what is expected.
A theology student went to the philosopher Paul Tillich with nagging questions about faith. Tillich responded to this young person by playing a recording of Credo (I Believe) from Bach’s B Minor Mass. Credo does not explain the Nicene Creed, but surrounds it with violins, trumpets, flutes, oboes, and voices. Tillich realized that the most satisfactory answers to that student’s questions were more likely to be found in music than in sharper reasoning.
Some people sing life—four-year-olds on their good days, poor people who do not consider themselves poor, truly funny comedians, the best writers, genuine Christians, the ones who sing alleluia for the good they have been given. We have a song that we need to sing.
In the early 1960’s, when racial conflict was first erupting in the Deep South, a Southern white person went to where the trouble was hottest to see for himself what was going on. He watched African-Americans asking for their rights and watched them being beaten back. He returned home and a friend asked about what he had seen.
He said, “It looks bad. The culture’s against them. The laws are against them. The FBI is against them.”
His friend asked, “Do you think they’re going to lose?”
“No, I think they’re going to win.”
“You just said the laws are against them, the FBI is against them, and the whole culture is against them. Why do you think they’ll win?”
“They have this song.”
We have a song born within us each time we open our hearts to God’s presence. We have the song of God’s goodness, the hymn of the Almighty’s grace, the melody of the Creator’s mercy, the psalm of the Spirit’s love. How can we keep from singing?