What A Sound Theology of Sound Teaches Us about Music That We Should Reject

February 2, 2014

Because biblical revelation about sound abounds, a sound theology of sound must account for all that Scripture reveals about sound. Attention to several passages about one specific aspect of certain sounds points us to another reason to reject the use of certain music.

Thunder as God’s Voice

At least seven passages directly identify thunder as the voice of God speaking, either through paralleling the two or by more directly linking them:

2Sa 22:14 The LORD thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice.

Psa 18:13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.

Psa 29:3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.

Job 37:4 After it a voice roareth: he thundereth with the voice of his excellency; and he will not stay them when his voice is heard. 5 God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.

Job 40:9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

Psa 77:18 The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook.

Psa 104:7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.

These passages should teach us to consider the very real possibility that when we hear thunder, we may actually be hearing God speaking but not understanding what He is saying. A key passage in the NT supports the validity of our need to be mindful of this possibility.

Human Misidentification of Sound as Merely Thunder

On an occasion when He was in the midst of a crowd, Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Thy name” (John 12:28a). In response, “then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28b).

The crowd that was standing by Him heard it and “said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to Him” (John 12:29). Jesus responded to them, “This voice came not because of Me, but for your sakes” (John 12:30).

Several commentators explain what took place at this time:

The Father then spoke from heaven in a thunderous voice, confirming His working in Jesus both in the past in the future. The voice was audible but not all understood it . . . The voice from heaven confirmed faith in the spiritually perceptive but to the unspiritual it was only a noise (1 Cor. 2:14).—Edwin A. Blum, BKC: NT, 318; bold is in the original

He alone could distinguish exactly what the voice said . . . If Jesus hears the voice distinctly, the crowd that was there does not. Some, presumably those less open to observable supernatural intervention, said it had thundered; others recognized that the sound was speech, a voice, and not just noise, but there is no evidence that they could make out what was being said.—D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, 441

The form in which the answer to Jesus’ prayer Father, glorify thy name (28) is conveyed (apparently a loud noise, interpreted by the materialists as a clap of thunder and nothing more, and by the more spiritually-minded as an angelic utterance) brings home to those standing near Jesus (for this, He states, was its primary purpose) the truth that Jesus really is engaged upon His Father’s business.—R. V. G. Tasker, TNTC: John, 149-150.

They heard the sound from heaven without distinguishing the words. . . . The astounding sound coming from heaven was called “thunder” by those who sought a natural explanation. Perhaps the sound resembled thunder to their ears. Others, nearer the truth, connect the sound with Jesus and imagine that an angel from heaven has spoken to him. The thunder hypothesis would be offered by the skeptics of today, who deem any but a natural explanation of supernatural phenomena “superstition.” —R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John, 871-872

These commentators all note that the passage shows that when many people in the crowd thought that they had heard thunder, they actually had heard the sound of divine communication from the Father to the Son. What many of these people, therefore, thought was just a loud noise in the heavens was actually specific communication.

Additional Relevant Passages

Three other passages also relate times when people heard loud sounds and did not understand that they were actually hearing the speech of supernatural beings, either an angel (Dan. 10:4-9) or of the glorified Jesus (Acts 9:7 and 22:9):

Daniel 10:4-9

While Daniel and others were at the bank of a great river, only Daniel saw “a great vision”:

Dan 10:4 And in the four and twentieth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, which is Hiddekel;

5 Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:

6 His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.

7 And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.

8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.

9 Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.

Daniel notes that the words that he heard were “like the voice of a multitude,” but he gives no indication that he understood what that voice was saying. Later, Daniel was given understanding (Dan. 10:10-21).

Acts 9:7 and 22:9

Two of the accounts of Paul’s conversion record that Jesus spoke from heaven to Saul after He had “arrested” him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-7; 22:6-9). Those who were with Saul heard a voice but did not understand it:

Act 9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Act 22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not[1] the voice of him that spake to me.

Like John 12:28-29, this passage shows that humans did not understand that the sound that they heard was actual specific communication by God.

Discussion 

Based on all the passages treated above, our theology of sound must include the reality that we likely often misinterpret actual speech by supernatural beings as merely thunder or some other indistinct loud sounds. Our inability to understand such supernatural speech (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1), therefore, should warn us not to think that we know with certainty that the extremely loud sounds of the music in a rock concert or of the music in many contemporary worship services are not communicating ungodly messages to supernatural beings who understand various communicative properties of sound that we do not.

Conclusion 

Christians who favor contemporary worship must allow Scripture to adjust their theology of sound so that it takes into account properly the divine revelation that shows our human inability to understand fully what certain loud sounds communicate in the supernatural realm and how they do so. Because of its demonic origins, rock music, which is played very loudly to obtain its full effect, must be rejected so that there is no possibility that we will unwittingly communicate ungodly messages to supernatural beings through music whose sounds have aspects that we do not understand.

 


[1] A careful examination of the Greek text shows that Acts 22:9 conveys not that the others did not hear the voice at all but that they did not understand what was being said.

 

Rajesh

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