The highest goal of music, Pythagoras apparently claimed, is to connect one’s soul to their divine nature, not entertainment. It is hard to find out exactly what this philosopher did and didn’t say, invent or theorise 2500 years ago but he is credited with a great many things. And while we may disagree with exactly what he meant by a soul (indeed he may be in part responsible for popularising the immortal soul motif) the triangle guy’s claim about music being more than entertainment is worth repeating.
Music does have a transcendent quality. Few songs have complete universal appeal and yet many find broad audiences and popularity. Songs have a number of ways to hook you whether through the rhythm, the melody, even the lyrics. Being something of a word man myself, lyrics appeal to me especially. Every now and then a phrase or set of lyrics will really capture my attention and hit me deeply.
There is a worship song that I’ve been listening to recently. It’s got a similar premise to an old chorus we used to sing but it has a line in it that just grabs me.
The song is “Jireh” performed by Elevation Worship and Maverick City Music and the song starts like this: “I’ll never be more loved than I am right now. Wasn’t holding you up, so there’s nothing I can do to let you down”.
The first time I heard these words, they captured my attention. Now, every time I hear the song, it grabs me and calls me to something different depending on the day or the mood: reflection, remorse, praise, awe.
In our denomination (and perhaps in some others), when the topic of works comes up there will always be a strong defence of grace alone. Jesus may be magnified. And then, invariably, the same speaker or perhaps someone else in the Sabbath school will say “but . . .”. There will always be an “and”—an appeal to James’ “faith without works” eulogy. The lion’s share of time will be devoted to HOW we demonstrate grace rather than the beauty of it alone. There is nothing wrong with exploring our response to grace and it is healthy to respond and look for ways to engage and live our faith, faithful to the call of our King. However, it can also seem like it is an obligation or misplaces our focus after some time. So the song lyric has something to say about that for me.
But I’m going to speak on a personal level for a moment. My entire drive seems to be built around not letting people down. Some of the self-reflection I’ve been doing lately, has been around my long internally recognised feelings of inadequacy and not measuring up. My career and my family have always been two of my highest priorities. These priorities sometimes clash as I try to navigate a way to honour both and not let anyone down. So, when I do fail or fail to measure up (to my own standards or the imaginary standards of others) I can be hard on myself. Not to mention all of this subconsciously projecting what I think God’s standards for me are. So imagine the liberation I feel (and I’m paraphrasing now) when the lyric says to me: “Jarrod. You aren’t holding up God and the whole Universe. God’s success, His Kingdom, His magnificence doesn’t depend on you to hold Him up. You can’t scuttle His plans for you or others.” It is a weight, a burden lifted.
None of us would ever presume that we must hold God up. That’s absurd. Yet the imagery of this lyric reframes what is actually happening in our lives as we strive so hard, for whatever reasons. It shows us where we are trying to hold everyone together and everything up all by ourselves.
Just the imagery of this lyric has brought me a new appreciation for myself and for God and how that all works. That’s the transcendent power of music. Maybe, like me, you’re trying to carry the world on your shoulders. Maybe you’ve got some hangover from a works-emphasising upbringing. Whatever your situation, the reality is that God has already provided.