Christ, the Law and the Gospel

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the May 31, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson


“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? ...while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:4,7 NIV

Have you ever listened to music and had it speak to your heart in such a way that everything seemed to go better for the rest of the day? Or have you ever heard a song that lifted your heart so much that you could not keep from singing along? Some songs, once you hear them, you can never get them out of your head. Perhaps there is a reason music has such a powerful influence on us. Maybe our reaction to music goes deeper than simply appreciating a catchy tune.

Even with no musical training, we can sense the discordancy of two people playing music together but in two different keys. If someone plays a song in E Minor on the piano and someone joins in on the cello in D Major, our nerves become irritated, and we do not enjoy the music. But when they both play in the same key the irritation resolves, and we can enjoy the music again.

Composers and song writers will sometimes use that tension creatively. They know that a minor key or even a minor chord can create feelings of sorrow, so they will compose the entire song in a major key and then shift to a minor chord just before the end. This creates a momentary tension that is quickly resolved by returning to the major chord at the end, making for a more interesting piece overall.

Because of our strong, innate response to music, some spend a great deal of time worrying that someone might be tempted to manipulate them through music, and some have even advocated avoiding music entirely for fear of the harm that they might suffer spiritually through its influence. However, one might wonder why we were created with such a strong affinity for music if it were indeed no more than a tool for evil manipulators.

Perhaps, instead, music is the fabric of creation and the very framework of all that exists. Music is everywhere in the Old Testament, from Moses and Miriam’s songs by the sea,[i] to David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant,[ii] and even during the Babylonian captivity.[iii] As our verse at the top suggests, music was a part of Creation, and in the Book of Revelation, when the final victory takes place, there is music.[iv] Classical operas have translated the triumphs and tragedies of the human story to music. Even in modern times, whether we are speaking of folk ballads, rock operas, or the musicals of Broadway and Hollywood, we continue to view the story of our lives through music.

Who has not stood for Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” and not been swept away by the moment? Yet, we go through life, sometimes, feeling like a discordant note, not quite fitting in despite our best efforts to do so. Perhaps it is because the note never creates the harmony. While it participates in that harmony, it is the Composer who produces the matrix where each note may find its place in the overall music of the universe. The note may know everything about what kind of note it is, but is unable to explain the music surrounding it beyond knowing what “feels right” when harmony occurs.

Perhaps David understood this feeling when he wrote:

“How good and pleasant it is

    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,

    running down on the beard,

running down on Aaron’s beard,

    down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon

    were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,

    even life forevermore.”  Psalm 133:1-3, NIV

Some would have us believe that such unity is based on a lock-step obedience to the dictatorial whims of a god who behaves more like a petty tyrant than a loving Father who cherishes each of His babies as though they were little pieces of Him, little reflections of His own character. True, there are some parents who expect their children to be miniature adults almost from the moment they leave the womb. Our Puritan forbears would have approved of such a notion. However, there are also parents who understand children and that their childish foibles are simply a part of what all must experience to properly mature.

We can believe that God is transcendent, spanning all of time and space and has the ability to set limits to all matter so that nothing may reach the speed of a photon. Do we honestly believe that such a God is concerned when a child goes wading on Sabbath and gets a pant cuff wet so that the child must be punished? This diminishes God by so many orders of magnitude. Maybe most no longer make such judgments, but we still encounter those who think that their relationship with the God of the universe is dependent on whether or not they wear an ankle-length jumper dress and a head covering. It makes me wonder if they think God prefers plaids or solid colors. Lest men think they are somehow above this, there are those who think that wearing a shirt buttoned all the way up and suspenders is somehow holier dress. Lest we be tempted to laugh at them, maybe we should examine our own reasons for wearing what we do in church. In view of the Creation account in Genesis, chapters one through three, maybe the whole idea of clothing is a rabbit trail away from God’s original plan for us anyway.

There are also those find obedience to be performing certain rituals and feasts according to a precise formula derived from arcane texts interpreted by privileged religious leaders, in much the same way one would consult a grimoire to conjure up favorable results based on magical incantations and ceremonies. This also diminishes God to little more than a trained monkey who responds if we say the right words. It also can reduce us to the level of sycophants who would say or do anything to curry favor with someone with more power than our own. While we certainly should not make God so small, we also should not demean ourselves in such a manner either, as we are His creation.

The sad element in all of this is we cannot obey anyway.[v] The best we can do is to recognize that simple fact. Once we recognize that the compassion of God is our only hope for achieving harmony with Creation, we can begin to find our place in His musical composition. It is not about meeting some standard in order to be “saved.” It is a gift.[vi] We are invited by God to assume our proper place in His magnum opus. Just as a skilled musician will craft quarter notes, half notes, rests, sharps, and many other elements to produce a composition, so God has created each of us before birth[vii] with a special place in mind that we should fill in His composition, His great masterpiece of Creation.

We can refuse to participate in that harmony. This perhaps is the greatest proof that God is not the tyrant some would portray Him to be. But just as some more mortal musicians have discovered, without the right notes in the right places, dissonance ensues. We may drift from mishap shoals to fair-weather harbor, never understanding the forces that brought us to our varied destinations and always feeling anxious as though something soothing was just out of reach. This is perhaps because when we are created for a purpose, we do not feel fulfilled in our potential until that purpose is realized.

While some would see us in a yoke of obedience, marching side-by-side with our fellow oxen into oblivion with nary a joy or glint of personal happiness, Jesus told us of a light yoke.[viii] Could it be that yoke is light because it is no yoke at all, but simply an invitation to join the music already playing? The journey to Dour Mountain may be taking many further from the music as they plunge deeper into manufactured obedience to a standard that has always been unobtainable.

Some might say that we must attain perfect obedience prior to the Parousia. But human perfection negates the need for a Savior. It also is something Paul, the Apostle, apparently did not believe could be accomplished prior to that “great expectation.” For he wrote that only then would “this corruptible put on incorruption.”[ix]

We should perhaps also understand that the note does not dictate the composition. The Composer does. If we are an eighth note in a lengthy symphony, this does not give us authority to use our experience as a guide for others. If we went around telling every other note that the standard they should reach is to become a perfect eighth note, we could destroy the entire composition as whole notes, quarter notes, and others sought to become perfect eighth notes. The judgment of what a person needs to be to fill their place in the heavenly symphony is best left to the Composer, who with compassion and grace will invite each to be all they can be in the place prepared for them.


[i] Exodus 15:1-21

[ii] 2 Samuel 6:1-19

[iii] Psalm 137:1-3

[iv] Revelation 15:2-4

[v] Jeremiah 13:23, Romans 3:10

[vi] Romans 6:23

[vii] Jeremiah 1:5

[viii] Matthew 11:30

[ix] 1 Corinthians 15:53



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