Mark the Music

From Act 5, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice:

Jessica: I am never merry when I hear sweet music.

Lorenzo: The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn’d to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods;
Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage,
But music for the time doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

Earlier I posted a quote from Jeremy Begbie’s book on music and theology which asserted that the difference between the singing of men and the singing of birds lies in man’s particular gift to sing knowing what he is saying. The heart and the affection follow singing man’s intelligence, and the whole man is engaged in song. And, in the section from The Merchant of Venice above, Lorenzo understands this ability to be engaged with music as a reflection of a man’s character. Orpheus attracts trees, storms and floods to himself with his music, but the man who has no music in himself is dark, dull and not to be trusted.

In other words, the songs a man sings reflect who he is. They reflect where he’s engaged his heart, affection and intelligence, and expose his character. But what about men who have no music in themselves and are not moved with concord of sweet sounds? What do we do with men who don’t sing with their understanding, but insist on beastly singing?

These, I think, are two of the most pressing questions for anyone who is going to express his opinions about the issues of our day–issues like abortion, homosexuality, Islam, justice, beauty and love. The questions are not pressing because we’re currently embroiled in vigorous debates about the nature of music (alas!), but because the issues that are currently stirring up the country aren’t called ‘culture war’ issues for nothing. The particular issues I have in mind are big, thorny, whole person issues, and–just like the songs we sing–our answers to the questions we find each other asking will reflect our characters and where we’ve engaged our hearts, affections and intelligence.

One answer to the questions above is that there were never any men without music who sing beastly songs in the first place. This line of thinking seemed to believe that since we’re all people, then by definition we can’t sing as the beasts sing. In other words, every answer to these cultural questions was said to be equally valid simply because someone held it. Our job was simply to live and let live and to tolerate different viewpoints.

We’ve come to see, though, that this answer was inadequate simply because the beastly singing is getting louder and louder, which makes it hard to pass it off as the songs of men. What am I talking about? We have college students who, when confronted with the reality that in our country it is “constitutionally” permissible to chop babies up into little bits, think that the just and moral response to that reality is to quibble about the manner in which we mark the dead baby’s graves on a display. We have swarms of people singing songs about passing new Jim Crow laws so that where it used to be illegal for a restauranteur to have an integrated dining room (thereby conscientiously refusing to participate in the racism of that day), it would now be illegal for a baker to not glorify something God has said has no glory (thereby conscientiously refusing to participate in the sexual confusion of our day). We have ISIS cutting off people’s heads in the name of their god. And then we have people who claim to follow Christ who say that the answer to militant Islam is a militant Christianity, preaching the gospel of convert or die.

As I’ve said, these are–all of them–beastly songs. And because some of these songs currently have the wind of the Zeitgeist behind their backs, the live-and-let-live world of toleration is crumbling. It’s difficult, after all, to have an absurd culture without also having absurd laws to make it illegal to belly-laugh at the absurdity.

So, then, the question again: what do we do with men who don’t sing with their understanding, but insist on singing as beasts?

We begin by praying Christ’s battle-hymn for the culture wars:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

In one sense, people know that when they get an abortion, they’re killing their baby. They know sodomy is gross. They know it’s wrong to advance their religion by the sword. But in another sense, all these people are acting in just as much ignorance as the Jews and Romans who crucified Christ:

While [a lame man who had just been healed] clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:11-21)

After beginning by praying as Jesus prayed, we preach repentance in the name of Jesus as the apostles did. Our culture doesn’t know what it’s doing in the same way Paul acted ignorantly in unbelief as he killed and persecuted Christ’s disciples:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

And be sure to note there the last verse. We learn from Paul’s receiving mercy that salvation for the worst of sinners is no hard thing for God to do.

All this to say: mark the music. Instead of offering each other absurdities as we interact, we must see clearly what we’re doing, what song we’re singing. And, if we do know what we’re saying in our song, instead of being impatient or shrill as the moaning of the beasts reaches new levels of discord, we must remember that grace hits harder than hell. We would have the Father forgive them as he’s forgiven us. When this happens, there is unspeakable joy in heaven (Luke 15:7). That means lots of singing.

Resurrection, Race and Wedding Cake

Earlier, in a post on the hope of eternal life, I followed a thread in the biblical letter from Paul to Titus to show that one of the main characteristics of someone who hopes for eternal life is a zealousness for good works. If you ever come across a lazy Christian, you’ve come across a person of weak hope. Someone who has genuinely come into contact with the grace of God has begun training to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12), and has begun to wait for the blessed hope of the world–that is, the return of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). And just by reading to the next verse we see a one-sentence summary of who Christ is and why we would wait for him in the first place: he “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Sweat, in other words, is a great indicator of the presence of the grace of God.

But atheists sweat too. They work hard and accomplish difficult and beautiful and worthwhile tasks every day. Buddhists, too. Jews and Muslims? The same. And on and on into the deepest corners of the world and of history. So what’s the difference?

The difference is what happened on a Friday a little over twenty centuries ago. Jesus was beaten for hours and then crucified on a cross, speared through his heart to make sure he was dead, then buried in the ground. And so was everyone who has the sure hope of eternal life. Paul develops this in Romans 6:1-12. Being baptized into Christ is being baptized into his death (Romans 6:3). The one who has received Christ was crucified with him there on the cross so that he would die and, therefore, be set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7). And, with Christ as our representation in death, he is also our representation in life. So Christ’s resurrection is the believer’s resurrection, and the hope of eternal life is as sure a hope as the tomb was empty come Sunday morning.

But just like the hope of eternal life necessarily results in a person’s being zealous for good works, the fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead also has an immediate and inseparable consequence. And that consequence is the end of racial hostility. I already emphasized the good works part of Titus 2:14, but looking at it once more will help us see the racial implications of the resurrection:

[Jesus Christ,] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

That group of people who are zealous for good works is made up of all the people purified by Christ’s work on the cross. That means people from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9). In fact, after one of the most beautiful explanations of the gospel in all of scripture in Ephesians 2:1-10, racial tension between Jews and non-Jews is the first sin in line to be bulldozed:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Reconciliation between the races comes after reconciliation to God. Only through the cross is anyone reconciled to God, and God then creates a people based on this common experience, thereby killing the hostility. The most important reality between a white man a black man living in Ferguson, Missouri is whether each man died with Christ on Calvary or not. If they haven’t yet, then the hostility between them remains. If they have both died with Christ, then God has made them closer than brothers.

Today is Good Friday. This Friday is good because in Christ’s death on the cross, God was at work in a people, crucifying the God-hating part of their souls right along with his Son. This Friday is also good because the God-hating part of their souls is also the part that hates their fellow man. This Friday we celebrate that all who are in Christ have access in one Spirit to the Father and are members of the one household of God.

One last implication of the cross is worth noting here due to the storm of news out of Indiana this week. The call of the cross since before the gay rights movement, since before the Civil Rights movement, and since before the Civil War has been “Come and die.” Believing in Jesus has always meant surrendering your life to him and trusting him that the sin he kills will be replaced with new life. Bigotry was the sin that the Civil Rights movement was righteous to oppose in the 1960s. Fornication is the sin the gay rights movement is unrighteous to defend today. Christ on the cross on Good Friday is the answer for both (and all) sins. And, on the day when that answer is rejoiced in, God himself will throw the party, complete with flowers, musicians and wedding cake (Revelation 19:6-9).

That Goodness and Lovingkindness Would Run Wild

Writing to Titus, Paul twice mentions the hope of eternal life. To begin, he writes that it is because of the hope of eternal life that he’s writing the letter:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before times eternal and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; (Titus 1:1-3)

And, near the end of the short letter, the phrase pops up again:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:1-7)

According to these two mentions of the hope of eternal life, what can we conclude?

We can conclude that the hope of eternal life is a sure hope, based on God’s promise before history began and carried out through Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel. We can conclude that the hope of eternal life is an undeserved hope, not given because of good works, but given according to God’s mercy to deeply unlovely and malicious people. And we can conclude that the hope of eternal life is an inherited hope, secured by God’s grace to sinners and passed down to them as a father would pass down his inheritance to a son with whom he is well-pleased.

But even these conclusions are aimed at something else. In the next verse, Titus 3:8, Paul writes:

The saying is trustworthy and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

So God’s goodness and lovingkindness appeared in history in Christ Jesus and he saves those who believe in him, and what is his aim in doing this? Why does he give those who have believed in him this sure, undeserved, inherited hope of eternal life? Here Paul stresses to Titus that God has done this so that those people would take care to be devoted to good works. Christ died to redeem this people from all lawlessness and to purify them, so that they might be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). This grace of God and hope of eternal life are the source of good works. Fools, slaves and haters are enlightened, freed and transformed that they might be gentle, obedient and show perfect courtesy to all people. In other words, Christ died so that, in his people, his goodness and lovingkindness would run wild.