Our most excellent friends sing for one of Southern California’s best churches, but are often disheartened to hear this: “I only come because of the music.” If you knew how good they were, then you would understand the sentiment, but also why the “compliment” distresses them.
Beauty, especially musical beauty, is a great power in the Earth. The trained musician wields that power and rare is the soul so insensitive that the music does not have impact on him. A great enough singer can expose a man to such beauty that for a long while his soul is satisfied. Many who reject God try to use the arts, especially music, as a substitute for religion, but this is like loving a picture of a woman instead of the woman.
The beauty of music is a signpost to God, an icon of His glory.
Signposts are important, but God forbid we stay at the post, glorying in the thoughts of the destination, and never reach our goal. The extravagant beauty of the cosmos is impossible to reconcile with a meaningless universe and ugliness in any facet of our lives is a sure sign that something is wrong. Sin is always attracted to ugliness: the art of ugliness tells an important truth about sin, but only a sick soul wallows in ugly truths.
A cure for sick souls is beauty, but the cure is not for its own sake. We must not worship the cure, but use psychological health to continue to full human flourishing. Beauty inspires love and love should empower a quest for the Good. Only when we reach the face of God can we be the people God created us to be and fulfill the reasons for our creation.
Though not all depression is the result of sin, as well I know, much is. Beauty in the arts must exist in the church of Christ, because true beauty is a part of His nature. Ugly churches, whether overly elaborate or spartan, are the worship centers of Hell and not Heaven. The poorest congregation can create beauty in their worship and the poorest congregations have done so throughout church history.
But the enormously less wealthy cultures that created the grand cathedrals, the stained glass, the art, and the sacred music, did not create for the sake of the building, the windows, the statues, or the tunes. They created for the glory of God they saw in their theology, their experiences, and their hopes. Fading Christian cultures, like that of late Victorian England, try to substitute the art, the poetry, the beauty for the truth and the real God that inspired the beauty, but this always fails.
Ugliness inspired by actual vice is more powerful than beauty disconnected from the source of beauty. Is it any wonder that our culture celebrates the tuneless, the mediocre, the easy, and the foul? Is it any wonder that our best art is often our ugliest art: it speaks truth to us, but a hopeless truth. Our popular culture is awash in vulgarity, cheap exploitation of emotion, or so ingrown as to be incomprehensible to any person but the self-indulgent artist.
My journey to worship often begins with music: especially music as beautiful as that written by friends like JAC Redford or performed by Randy and Kate Gremillion, but it does not end there. They have worked hard, trained hard, to bring me to something else than the mere performance: a glimpse of God. The theology of their church, truth about God, fits with the morality of their church, the truth about humanity, which harmonizes with the beauty of the church, the power of God.
You can come for the music, the theology, or the morality, but you stay for Jesus.