Recently, I watched an interview with a well-known songwriter/singer/musician. The interviewer described her music as healing. The songwriter spoke of how she weaves her faith through her songs. Interestingly, she does not employ very many theological/biblical terms in her songs.
I am eclectic when it comes to music. At any given time I may be listening to Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Amy Grant, James Taylor, or Fernando Ortega (just to name a few). Two of those four artists are professing Christians, and three are not. I don't know a lot about music, but I do know that we are to honor God in all that we do. God is the giver of song, and all of our music must be to and for Him.
Can a country song about loving, leaving, and losing be for God?
I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music (Psalm 101:1).
Is there a way to tell a story in a drinking song, which highlights the themes of steadfast love and justice? Is it essential to always use words like justification, redemption, mercy, grace, salvation, sin, and atonement when making music? Can we sing to God about sin in a way that does not glorify sin, but instead poetically displays sin's impact while underlining themes of redemption, mercy, and love? Do lyrics always need to be theologically specific in black-and-white language?
What about communication of any sort? Should we always communicate in a direct and clear way? One might remark, Lets take a walk in that field across the road. That is clear and understandable language. One might also say:
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land (Song of Solomon 2:10-12).
Both kinds of communication seem necessary in a life that is both efficient and beautiful. The Bible offers great variety in its communication. Sometimes it is straightforward and declares, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). That is clear and direct language that packs a punch.
Sometimes the Bible says:
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (Song of Solomon 2:3).The Song of Solomon verse describes the same truth as the Ephesians verse. But it does so lyrically/musically/poetically. Both forms of communication are necessary for efficiency, communicating truth, and to make life more joyful.
I am aware that when comparing the songs of the Bible with extra-biblical songs, we are comparing that which is inspired, infallible, and inerrant with that which is not. However, it is clear that godly communication is not just about sprinkling all of our speech with Bible verses. Seasoned speech grows out of Bible knowledge. Seasoned speech does not mean that all of our words must be theologically rich words. There is a time for a husband to hear directly that he ought to love his wife. There is also a time when he needs poetic descriptions of what love looks like. In that case he needs music with lyrics that includes an apple tree filled with sweet fruit and providing refreshing shade.
Esther and The Song of Solomon do not use the word God in them. That is not problematic, because the Bible is a collection of books. Those two books do not stand in isolation from the whole of Scripture. The Bible opens with In the beginning God created . . . (Genesis 1:1) and concludes with The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen (Revelation 22:21). In between Genesis and Revelation there is a lot of information about God, man, sin, redemption, life, death, heaven and hell. Therefore, when reading Esther, we do not have to read the word God to understand that God is providentially working all things for the salvation of the Jews. The Song of Solomon is not divorced from Ephesians. Ephesians tells us the reason for marriage and The Song of Solomon gives us the music of marriage.
When listening to Haggard or Grant, it is important not to check our theology at the door. When I listen to Haggard, I bring an understanding of the wages of sin, the hopelessness of pursuing meaning without God, and the way of redemption through Jesus Christ. When listening to Grant, I am able to hear how she weaves her theology into song, and I am able to test it by Scripture while enjoying the music.
I know that this is tricky and the subject of many debates. I am not looking for a fight. I am just musing a bit. I seek to bring my Christian theology to bear upon all things. There are Christians who are on the lookout for a Christian symbol when doing their shopping. I am not among them. Don't get me wrong, I love to support Christians, and want to do so whenever I can. However, I do not search out the convictions of the owner before I purchase his goods. If I need a loaf of bread, a fish symbol is not a requirement.
Music is different from bread. Bread may impact my belly but music has a more potent ability to impact my thinking and my emotions. Lyrics are designed to be catchy and to be remembered; therein is part of the danger and opportunity. What I must constantly be learning is how to enjoy music as I am applying discernment. It is obvious that I should not be listening to songs that provoke me to engage in sin. Yet, I often learn from listening to music that is not distinctly Christian. Sometimes a country song reminds me of just how much I am like the song and how desperately I need the Savior.
There is a danger of hanging out too frequently with music that does not have distinctively Christian themes. It is possible to allow sin to cling to us and impact us for ungodliness. I think that there is also a danger in hiding our heads in pious sand and not thinking deeply about sin, the fall, and redemption.
Whatever you listen to make sure that your heart and mind are saturated with Scripture. Focus on writing, singing, and listening as means to glorify and enjoy God. Cultivate a heart of discernment with music. Think through what this will look like in your life.
Note: I am not advocating that you rush to the store and load up on Haggard music. And, I am not referring to the Sunday worship service.