June 21st is world music day and that gives me the excuse I needed to say something about Bach. In April 2009, British atheist, A.N. Wilson (Author of Dante in Love and the Lampitt Chronicles) shocked the world by announcing that he was returning to Christianity.
When asked in an interview what the worst thing about being an atheist was, he replied,
“When I thought I was an atheist I would listen to the music of Bach and realise that his perception of life was deeper, wiser, and more rounded than my own… [I learned that], the resurrection… is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story. J.S. Bach believed that story and set it to music.”
Carl Sagan, when asked by his colleagues for suggestions on what audio should be included on an early Space Voyager Mission (should they come into contact with aliens), got this reply from Freeman Dyson, “I’d just send Bach… but that would be showing off.”
A.N Wilson and Carl Dyson are not alone. In the introduction to his book ‘Does God exist?’, Peter Kreeft noted several former atheists he knew that were personally persuaded to believe the gospel by the argument,
“There is the music of Bach, therefore, there must be a God.” (p.27)
This would have pleased Bach who typically wrote SDG (Sola Deo Gloria – To God Alone be the Glory) at the end of his compositions.
Johann was the grandson of a Miller by the name of Veit. Veit loved two things and taught his descendants to love them also: Jesus Christ and Music.
So solid was Veit’s impact that by the end of the 17th century there were over 70 Bachs occupying posts as professional musicians.
Johann was one of those Bachs, and one of numerous Johanns to grow up under this loving and devoted Miller. J.S. Bach wrote that the underpinning for his music was drawn from 2nd Chronicles 25 in the Bible, where King David separated his army into “Musical Garrisons”.
Scribbled in the margins of his Bible, Bach had written,
“The true foundation of all God-pleasing music: Wherever there is reverent music, God with His Grace is always present.”
Music is how we might describe what God was doing when He made the world, and what he is currently doing to sustain it. Music creates, it lifts high, it brings low. Like beauty, music is not subjective. God is the final word on good music.
Typically, it is that which is most consistent with the rhythm and harmony of His own handiwork in creation. It is clean, clear, sometimes terrifying, typically glorious.
Finally, music magnifies and honours the things we hold most dear. It is a reflection of the things we worship.
I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. (Psalm 101:1)
Music can defeat an army, lay waste a culture or build a glorious city. It reflects our deepest longings and reveals the horror of our sin. It fills and guides the human heart with its melody.
Music is culture. It is the overflow and expression of what we treasure most. And so it seems fair to say, if Jesus does not have your music, He does not have your heart.