Category Archives: Philosophy

The meditations of my heart

I am currently in the process of writing a paper on “a theology of worship.” Note: a theology, not the. Thank goodness. At the same time, I have also been working on a lecture to be presented to our school faculty about the musical choices we make for our school chapel.  During this process, these words continued to come to my mind:

May the words of my mouth

And the meditations of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight

For you Oh Lord, are my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 15

My childhood pastor used to pray these words every Sunday before he began to preach.  I wonder how often we think on these words before we sing our praises to God in worship. 

When speaking of the sacrificial system described in the book of Leviticus, late Jewish Scholar Nahum Sarna wrote, ” If the prescribed norms are not adhered to, the sacrifice is said to be unacceptable, and the harmony in the relationship between the devotee and God that it is intended to promote remains disturbed.”  (On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, 95). We sing of a “sacrifice of praise.”  To me, there seems to be a disconnect between this idea of acceptable sacrifice and our poppy tunes – often shallow in both musical craft and theological message.  What are we sacrificing?  What are we offering? Mediocre entertainment? Pale copies of what the godless world has come up with?  I feel it is akin to offering our leftovers to a Holy God. Thanks be to God, the only necessary and final sacrifice has been paid through the blood of Christ.  Yet, in light of this (not in spite of this) should we not all the more carefully consider our praise?

What are the words of our mouth?

What are the meditations of our heart?

Could they in any way be acceptable?

Whatever is true… whatever is lovely

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

The Medievals, or rather- the premoderns, thought of beauty, goodness and truth to be inescapably tied to each other.  By definition, if something was beautiful, it must necessarily be also true and good.  If something is to be called good, it must be both beautiful and true, and lastly, if something is true, it is therefore both good and beautiful.  Today, however, we say, “Well, the truth can be ugly,” as well as holding both beauty and goodness to be subjective properties- subject to how each person “feels” about it.  Yet centuries of Saints (that is, our brothers and sisters in Christ) counter this thought.  They hold that our human vision of what is beautiful and what is ugly is distorted due to our inability to see as God sees.

In his treatise on Music, De Musica, Augustine says this,

“ God made sinful man ugly; but it was not an ugly act to make him so.  Man became ugly by his own wish.  He lost the whole, which, in obedience to God’s laws, he once possessed, and was given his place in part of it, since he was unwilling to practice the law, and therefore is governed by the law instead.  Lawful acts are just, and just acts are not essentially ugly. (That is, it was just of God to curse sinful man- to make him ugly.  Yet justice is true and good, and therefore beautiful- though to our human eyes it is ugly.)  Even in our bad deeds there are good works of God.  Man, as man, is good.  Adultery is bad.  But from adultery, a bad act of man, is born a man, a good act of God.”

The reformer Martin Luther speaks of the “hidden” acts of God.  The most hideous and beautiful act in all of human history are one- the crucifixion of Christ, God in human flesh.  Humanity, in the pinnacle of depravity, took the creator of the cosmos and killed Him.  In this same moment, God, the definer and essence of all that is good, beautiful and true- became Man, and gave Himself up to be killed in order that His fallen creation could be reconciled to Him.  Here is the epitome of beauty hidden within the epitome of ugliness.

What does this have to do with music or worship (the supposed topic of this blog)?  Everything.  We think of music as something completely sensuous- that is something that appeals to our senses.  We get to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly based on our personal opinion.  But what if we do not perceive reality correctly?  What if we don’t truly know what makes something ugly or beautiful?  Are beauty, truth and goodness subjective or objective? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we do not know what truth is?