Culture and Goodness (4)
Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure thingsnew and old.” Matthew 13.52
The pleasure of harmony
Harmony, as an important aspect of the goodness of culture, is so widespread and common that we take it for granted. Harmony expresses balance, blending, appropriateness, concord, and good taste. We hardly think about the many ways that harmony appears in all aspects of cultural life. We seek it implicitly – in how we dress, keep our homes, appreciate our music, balance our lives between work and rest, manage our diet, and in every other way. We recognize that things inharmonious are just not right, at least, not what we enjoy. We avoid disharmony and seek harmony in nearly everything we do.
In his comic composition, “No One’s Perfect,” Allan Sherman demonstrated how important harmony is to our cultural experience. When his choir strikes an unharmonious note, we wince, and the audience laughs, because we know such disharmony is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is not without clear purpose that the most unharmonious song in the musical Les Mis, “The Bargain,”is sung by that most disharmonious couple, the Thenardiers. On the other hand, the intricate, complex, and amazing harmonies of Johann Sebastian Bach are such as bring glory to God (soli deo gloria) in every generation, as he prayed they would.
Harmony is just a part of who we are, and the various kinds of harmony – and disharmony – we encounter in our culture can have edifying or stultifying effects. Harmonies of various kinds foster peace and a sense of wellbeing, while disharmony creates unrest or irritation. Disharmony is disquieting and disconcerting, while harmony brings matters to a point of resolution and satisfaction. We seek the one, because of the peace and pleasure it affords, while we eschew the other, or at least, suffer it only as long as is necessary.
Harmony and the Bible
It’s not surprising that the Bible embodies harmony and balance like no other book or cultural artifact in the world. The unity and harmony of Scripture are captured in Augustine’s well-known quip, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is by the New revealed.” Old and New Testaments create a balance of divine revelation, of fall and restoration, promise and fulfillment, anticipation and realization, longing and hope.
Moreover, among the books of the Bible a glorious harmony of genre, voices, themes, and styles constitutes a symphony of divine revelation that makes the Bible the living and powerful blessing it is (Heb. 4.12). We will delight in the Bible more as we appreciate the different literary forms in which it is communicated, the subtle differences in themes and emphases, and the style of each inspired writer. Reading the poetry of Scripture – which is considerable – is not the same as reading an epistle of Paul. The histories of the Old and New Testament demand a different approach to reading and study than the prophetic or apocalyptic literature. The story of God’s covenant has a different aspect with Abraham than with David or Jesus.
But all these forms, genre, and themes work together, under the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit, to help us discover the profound beauty and goodness of Scripture, to understand its teaching, and to appropriate its lessons. The Spirit, like the conductor of a masterful symphony, draws from spiritual teaching throughout the Bible to create the enduring and multi-faceted harmonies that make reading Scripture such an ineffable delight and joy (1 Cor. 2.12, 13; Jer. 15.16).
The Bible is the supreme cultural example of how harmony can reveal the goodness of God, Who lives in perfect harmony within and among Himself. As we learn to appreciate the harmony of Scripture, we will grow in our adoration of and commitment to God, and we will discover ways of bringing more harmony into our own cultural experience as well.
Harmony in the everyday
The fact of harmony communicates something about the goodness of God. Harmony is delightful, satisfying, and fulfilling. The more harmony and balance feature in our use of culture, the more we will bring the goodness of God to light in the land of the living.
This is a challenge for all aspects of our cultural experience, beginning with our approach to Scripture. Do we read all of Scripture? Do we seek to compare parts of Scripture with one another, to gain the fuller picture of truth God intends? Do we seek Jesus throughout Scripture, and all the various harmonies of the Bible completely resolved in Him? Do we meditate and reflect on the harmonies of the Bible, letting them resonate with our harmony-seeking soul, and shape our lives for harmony and goodness throughout?
Our lives will touch others for harmony or disharmony, for pleasure and edification, or for discord and offense. Our conversation, all our outward manners and demeanor, how we do our work or keep our homes, what we appreciate in music, film, literature, and art, and how we manage our relationships: All these have potential to portray the kind of harmony that exists in God and His Word, and to bring that harmonious sense of goodness into the experience of the people around us.
1. Give an example of a harmony that gives you particular delight – whether a song, story, part of the Bible, article of couture, or example from sports. What is it about this example that gives you such pleasure?
2. What kinds of things strike you as unharmonious in another person? Do you see any of that in yourself? How can we avoid becoming sources of dissonance, discord, and irritation to others?
3. Spend some time reflecting in prayer over a day in your life. Can you see any areas where you might bring more harmony into your relationships, roles, and responsibilities?
Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some Christian friends. What do they find harmonious in their lives? Why do they enjoy such harmonies? How can Christians help one another make more harmonious use of culture?
T. M. Moore
What are you doing at 8:18 am? If you’re with Bruce Van Patter, you’re observing the goodness of God in your immediate surroundings. Take a look at Bruce’s column, and let your world come alive with goodness (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.