I. The Awesome Sound
Imagine waking up in a great concert hall amongst a vast congregation of singers. The first thing you hear is a wondrous song, a musical masterpiece, proceeding from the stage at the centre of a circular arena. The sound, though not particularly loud at first, is filled with a thousand perfect harmonies. The intertwined music and lyrics seem more ancient than you can possibly imagine, but at the same time refreshing and relevant. The song never seems to end, and yet it somehow stays entirely captivating, telling a great tale of many movements. It is easily the most beautiful music you have ever heard.
Your heart is gripped in awe, and you are drawn to the source to which all the audience direct their voices. You gaze in the same direction, for on the stage is an awesome scene: a throne, overarched by a rainbow. The One sitting on it has the appearance of precious gems, and next to the throne there is an empty bloodstained cross. All around the throne is a host of musicians and vocalists, young and old, addressing their various sounds to the One in echo of His song. In front of them stands the Conductor, and you realise that you somehow know Him; He has the appearance of the Son of Man. You notice a large songbook in front of you. You pick it up in the hope of confirming what your memory is telling you. The title reads: “The Holy Word of God and The Gospel of Grace: The Wisdom by which the Earth was founded and the Heavens Established”, followed by the conductor’s name, “The Word who was with God in the beginning and is God, Who dwelt amongst humanity for their redemption”.
Now you remember. He is the One who saved you from the state you used to be in; the One who rescued you from the sea of destruction.
II. The Siren Song
This song was enticing because it promised no restraint upon your desires. It appealed to your longings with the offer of forbidden fruits, of pleasures and material objects – and yet in time you began to realise, even sub-consciously, that there was something discordant about this sound which initially seemed so beautiful. It never seemed to deliver exactly what it promised. It dangled treats in front of you but kept you far from the answer you longed for in your heart, and it even caused you and those around you a degree of harm. What you thought was a life of freedom in fact seemed to enslave you, and yet you saw no alternative nor hated it enough to leave.
“There must be something more!” It was then that you first faintly heard the music of the conductor – the base notes of the Gospel of Grace. Before long you opened your eyes, and in horror you gazed then upon the true destination of your ship. Far ahead in the distance stood Death, and with him a serpentine conductor, orchestrating his siren song to entice his listeners through the gates of hell. To some the song is like Turkish Delight; to others it is a Ring of Power – but the end is always the same. Like Odysseus, you had given yourself willingly to the siren song and had even sung along. Unable to withstand its power by simply tying yourself to the mast, you had cried out for deliverance. It was then that the Conductor’s perfect song, more beautiful than the counterfeit, ushered you into His presence.
III. The Concert Hall
You realise you understand very few of the overlaying melodies, and so part of you wonders if this is just another illusion. The differences in the tones sung by the diverse audience appears to be a discord that has emerged from seemingly united melodies. At the same time, others around you begin to ask troubling questions that you feel ill-equipped to answer. You even notice that some nearby are singing to the same music but with different words that are reminiscent of the old siren song.
None of this confusion causes you to walk out of the concert hall, but you do eventually succumb to formality. You sing the words with the audience, but you don’t know entirely why. You are going with the motions, doing the done thing, consuming more than you give, losing inspiration to action, losing the joy that you felt when you first heard the song.
Then suddenly some phrases jump out at you: “He who has ears to hear let him hear!” “Get understanding!” “Worship the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!” “Have a reason for the Hope that is in You!” “Continue in this teaching!” “Do not be blown by every wind of doctrine!”. So you listen, and you pick up the songbook to follow along. As you hear and read these lyrics, contained in the great songbook, it occurs to you that these are active commands to study and to hear, rather than passive offers of comfort. You remember that these words are revealed to little children and hidden from the wise, and so you begin to tune in to the song with more effort without forgetting the simplicity of the baseline.
Your gaze turns to the choir. You notice an inscription on the wall above: “The Great Cloud of Witnesses”. Amidst the many voices, old and new, you make out the voice of Augustine declaring God as our Sovereign Joy. You hear Luther and Calvin, who preserved the songbook in great darkness, crying, “salvation is by grace through faith alone!” You are inspired by the flair of Spurgeon, and by Bonhoeffer’s exhortation: “Carry the Cross of your Conductor!” The sound technicians (among them C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Milton and Bunyan) remix the great song and proclaim it through story and metaphor that connect it to the heart in new ways – Aslan, the Ring, the Pilgrim. All these Great Witnesses, though not as great as those witnesses who feature in the Songbook itself, amplify the beauty of the song and encourage those who hear it.
You turn to the diverse audience, revealed now as “The Church”, and as you understand the many emphases and tones of voice the confusion fades away. They are united after all! United in the song emanating from the throne, as diverse as they may be. “Let this truth give birth to harmony”, you remember Augustine saying, as well as the Great Song’s own words: “we are one body with many parts”. It helps you then to identify those audience members around you who introduced their own ideas and falsehoods.
This is the word that strikes you as you link the individual parts you have understood together: HARMONY. Now your fuller understanding moves you closer to the throne, it forms a defence against doubt, and it rekindles your joy as you worship with all your mind, heart, soul and strength. You become more gifted in singing along yourself, and you even begin to understand the visual symbols being used. The song in all its parts is loud and clear; increasing more in beauty now than it did when you first heard it!
IV. The Everlasting Harmony
The more you move closer to the throne, the more you notice that the song is not only being heard by the audience, but is being amplified, out and beyond the four walls of the concert hall. It’s Wisdom of is heard on the dark seas where those without Christ remain, “calling to all who would enter”, competing with the folly of the Siren Song. The song from the throne calls on its hearers to proclaim the words like light in the darkness. As you join in this work – both singing and living the life within the song - you become the bringer of life to those who are dying and know no other song but the Siren’s. You speak the truth in love but proclaim it unashamedly and loudly when needed. You sing the heavy tones of repentance, tragic reality, and Christ’s crucifixion without forgetting to tell of the great hope, of grace, of the resurrection.
As the years pass, your understanding and joy increase. The pursuit of wisdom and understanding increase your fear and love of the One. Challenges, bereavements, and trials are many, but the beauty of the song keeps you anchored. You never reach a total understanding; there are many mysteries, and yet they themselves add a supernatural beauty. One day, however, all this will pass. One day you will stand on the stage, where you will at last be with the conductor. Then the Siren Song will be heard no more; then there will be complete harmony, and we will sing in perfect joy for all eternity. All creation will become a concert, a cathedral of praise.
Welcome to the Theology That Sings blog. Here you'll find news of upcoming events, as well as notes and notices.