Strachan: Appreciating Complexity

The battle over Christmas music is the true culture war of our time. Here is the center of the debate: Can we listen to our favorite songs before December? I know purists on both sides. Personally, I try to resist playing such pieces before the season really kicks off. But there are certain tracks I cannot help but play—they are simply too beautiful. This is true of Handel’s Messiah. Composed in 1741, when Jonathan Edwards was at the peak of his vocation, the Messiah seems to me one of the greatest musical accomplishments of all time.

Whatever one’s precise opinions about the proper beginning of the Christmas season, to hear an orchestra at the height of its performance exhilarates the mind and moves the soul. This is especially true of “very complex tunes.” Most of us do not have a carefully trained ear to appreciate “a great many notes together.” But in heaven, Edwards suggests, we will hear “thousands of different ratios” and so listen to symphonic worship in perfect harmony.

A love for classical music is not a necessity for the Christian faith. But Edwards’s point is worth considering. The Trinity itself directs us to appreciate complexity—a complexity we would not have thought possible. A piece that brings many voices and instruments into harmony speaks to a richness, a depth of experience that transcends the power of even many voices singing one note together. Whatever our exact aesthetic interests in the afterlife, we can know that the praise of Christ in song will exceed by far anything we have heard on earth. Let us prepare ourselves to exalt God. Let us now, whether as professionals or amateurs, sing praise to God—in season or out.

Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

-Owen Strachan, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, 309.

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