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Why we sing

By Jon Lindsay, 04 Apr 2020

Why we sing

I really miss meeting with my church family.
I really miss eating with my church family.
I really miss singing in my church family.

When the elders ‘met’ to discuss what church would look like in the age of a pandemic, singing was one of our non-negotiables. Why? Does that seem a little strange given we’re not in the same room? Maybe it does to you, or your neighbours! Let me give you one big reason why we still want to keep this a mainstay of what we do, even in our scattered-gathering. Creation is, and always will be, full of singing.

Singing and creation

The world begins with poetry. Even if not musical (which I think it probably was), Genesis 1’s creation record is definitely poetic, with rhythm and structure and rise and fall.

For example, Genesis 1:2: 'Now the earth was formless and empty' (NIV 1984). A brooding, shapeless emptiness is just waiting for order. And God brings not only order but substance through rhythmic, ordered, memorable words; and those words get a response. And he gets a response. It’s almost as if God is leading the fundamental elements of the whole universe in a divine call and response. Like “Give me a L: L! Give me an I: I! Give me an F: F! Give me an E: E!”

  • “Let there be light!” / “Here’s light!”
  • “Let there be an expanse-between-the-waters-separating-water-from-water!” / “Here’s an expanse-between-the-waters-separating-water-from-water!”

And it’s a glorious thing. On that first day, there was singing! Ever noticed this is Job 38:4-7? The Lord says this to Job:

'Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
Or who laid its cornerstone -
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?' (NIV 1984)

The very stars responded in singing! God’s ecstatic joy flows into his creatures. (Please go and read the creation chapter of C S Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew to revel in this surprising reality of Creation). The very first singing in creation (done by those stars) is an act of perfect obedience.

Singing, at its most pure, honours God and is an act of joyful obedience. And God keeps up the musical theme in his recount of how he created man. Notice the rhythm, repetition and order here:

'So God created man
in his own image;
in the image of God
he created him;
male and female
he created them.' (Genesis 1:27 NIV 1984)

In fact, God’s creative artistry is so rich that the only creature blessed with speech uses their words in a similar poetic form. Adam, take up your mic:

'This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman’,
for she was taken out of man.' (Genesis 2:23 NIV 1984)

Husbands: check out that passion! Adam sees his favourite part of creation, and gives the world’s most eloquent, “Woah!” (and we all wish we’d thought of something so smooth). Adam sings his very great, wedding pleasure over his wife.

Creation is sung into existence. And God’s pinnacle creatures, humans, are immediate singers.

Singing and evil

But of course there is the tragedy of the fall. At which point singing is perverted. Poetry becomes a tool not just of praise and doxology (glory words) but of arrogance and boasting.

Genesis 4:23 in which the archetypal misogynistic tyrant (translation: a very bad man) Lamech boasts in couplets:

'Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.' (NIV 1984)

This is sadly how thorough sin is. Poetry and singing, are at the heart of creation and humanity. But even that is perverted and corrupted by sin. Loads of contemporary music is about honouring the self, with no recognition of absolute truth or objective moral standards (please be careful with the soundtracks for kids films!). So much music is about, let’s be honest, titillating sin. Be careful what you implicitly endorse: don’t sing sin just because the tune is catchy.

Creation and humanity wait for redemption, and so does our singing.

Singing and redemption

Remember: it is creation’s very good pleasure to sing the song of the creator. Well…it seems to me while creation waits for redemption, it ‘hums’ in harmony with the song of God’s glory. Through all its scars, Creation still sings of the glory of God (Romans 1:18-20). If we listen, we can hear her:

  • Towering mountains declare that God is mighty and powerful.
  • The brittle legs of a ladybird declare that God cares for the smallest details.
  • Seeds sprouting in unexpected places show God’s joy to bring resurrection life.
  • A mother otter tying her pups safely up in sea kelp show that God has a concern for the vulnerable in the storms of life.
  • A wound hardening to become a scab to soften and fade into a scar shows God’s delight to heal wounds.

We can hear creation sing the praises of the Lord! We can hear the song of creation, of God’s great glory, being sung even now. Creation provides the backing vocals for God’s resplendent creation song. Consider Isaiah 44:23:

'Sing for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done this;
should aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel.' (NIV 1984)

Creation waits now for the redemption of God’s people (Romans 8), which will undoubtedly be the high point of all history. Now, as creation waits, she hums in the background. But on that day – man alive! – you will barely be able to hear yourself shout over the harmonic, choral rabble-rousing praise that creation sings. Can you imagine the sound of mountain opening its throat and going at it for God’s glory? I know it’s probably imagery. But it’s some image, isn’t it!

God chooses to show us creation’s joy at our redemption by telling us it’s a song! And so our singing is most human when it is about God’s glory in redemption. Which is why God’s people are always a singing people.

  • Sometimes that redemption is realised physically: Miriam and Moses singing in Genesis 15 as Israel escape from Egypt
  • Sometimes that redemption is promised: Mary singing at the promise of the Messiah in Luke 1.
  • Sometimes that singing is about our spiritual redemption: The Psalmist sings praise to God for his freedom from the punishment for sin in Psalm 32

God’s people are a people of song, so we still sing with each other, even over the internet.

Singing and the human experience

So consider the Psalms. Singing makes us more fully human. So…our singing can and should reflect the full human experience. The Psalms carry that weight of human experience. The Psalms, in fact, follow the whole sweep of salvation.

  • There are Psalms of creation.
  • There are Psalms of sin.
  • There are Psalms of promise.
  • There are Psalms of new life.
  • There are Psalms of death.
  • There are Psalms of despair.
  • There are Psalms of depressions.
  • There are Psalms of joy.
  • There are Psalms of wonder.
  • There are Psalms of corporate worship.
  • There are Psalms of longing.
  • There are Psalms of rest.
  • There are Psalms of loss.
  • There are Psalms of hope.

And every single one of them meets their perfection in the Lord Jesus. He is our one-and-only worship leader. Jesus is the one who enables, models, focuses and defines our worship.He is our Psalm leader. Jesus takes up the full scope of the Psalms in himself. He perfectly fulfils and lives Psalms of despair, loss, longing, hope, corporate worship, joy, rest and wonder. Jesus, the most human human there ever will be, is a living and breathing Psalm. He is where all human experience meets perfect godliness.

And let’s not forget that those Psalms point us forward to a day of endless song.

Singing and eternity

In the New Creation God’s people will be a people of song forever.
John’s glorious vision of the saints around the throne (Revelation 6) is full of singing:

'Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.'
And then the angels join in too:
'Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!' (NIV 1984)

All of this is to say why the elders of Church by the Bay have sought to keep the meeting live and to keep us singing together.

The destiny of all creation is to sing of what Jesus has done.

  • We were created to sing;
  • we are redeemed to sing;
  • and we will be resurrected to sing.

Sing for joy, O Church by the Bay, for the Lord has done this.

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.