The Devil’s Chord in God’s Song

sheet music

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church declared that a dissident chord (C with an F sharp to be exact) possessed a deviant nature. The defamed arrangement became known as ‘the devil’s chord’. Such a sound was banned from all musical motifs in church liturgy to protect the worshiper from any anti-divine interference while worshipping. Church leaders believed that the strange harmony could transcend a person beyond the serene pomp of Sunday service; thus, these overlapping notes were dispelled from medieval cathedrals. During the 198os, my music teacher evangelized a similar doctrine in the Christian junior high I attended. She pronounced a disdain for the rock ’n’ roll tempo, which emphasizes the second beat, and denounced the practice altogether. She characterized the rock genre as ‘the devil’s music’ because it upset the rhythm of the heart as God intended it to beat. The theme in these two tales is the basic belief that music, the combination of sounds and rhythms and their collective cadence in a song, falls into one of two categories – God’s or the devil’s. Throughout history, many Christians have tediously tried to categorize music as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and in doing so have missed the opportunity to just jam. The attempt to identify music’s evil components and remove them has, consequently, stripped music of its innate ability to fully express who God is, who we are and God’s relationship with us. Sadly because of this, ‘Christian’ music is often criticized as lacking ingenuity. It seems that God-fearing folk are so afraid of utilizing all aspects of music to expand our relationship with God, lest we give the devil an opportunity to distract us. This response restricts the reality of redemption from being declared. And redemption is the epic message of Christianity. Hence, we ironically miss out on experiencing a good thing when we call music bad.

The devil disrupting God’s song is not a new tune. Since the beginning, the devil has sought to strike discord among God’s creation, specifically humanity. Adam and Eve stood between two trees, significantly named after their fruit bearing effect, and were persuaded by the devil to believe that knowing what is good and evil trumped the experience of simply being alive and letting God direct things. The devil’s sole strategy was to discredit God’s orchestral leadership, suggesting that we can do better. Do better? Humanity was the grand finale of the Creation story, purposefully crafted by God, of God, to reflect and reproduce God’s creative genius. We were originally, by design, made to create good things, even very good things. However, Adam and Eve’s decision to go solo indeed dismantled something sacred. Perhaps the punitive measures some Christians employ to avoid this mishap from reoccurring come from a good place of wanting to maintain devotion to God, but it still results as a bad decision. Musical legalism has less to do with honoring God and more to do with honoring ourselves about how well we are honoring God. This was the devil’s ploy all along.

Redemption revamps the refrain in God’s song, which the devil sabotaged to end on a bad note. Christ’s triumph over the grave is a story about life re-established to its original intent. Music is an essential means of story telling. Every tone and tempo that exists can be used to intentionally tell the story of salvation. This skill should be taken seriously. The songs we craft should not dismiss the dissident parts of the salvation saga. The gospel is our motivation to make music that displays not only the serenity of salvation but also the sorrow and scandal of what it took to secure it. Music must include the morose melodies of the human experience and even the anguish of God’s anger for us to accurately appreciate what Christ accomplished. Otherwise, the value of the salvation song gets lost in translation. Not every song has to fixate on the dissidence but it must be found somewhere in our symphonic stories. When David penned ‘sing to the Lord a new song…all the earth’ (Psalm 96), he scripted a song that invited everyone/everything to recognize and revere the Lord’s redemptive role in our lives. Let us not deem devilish those sounds and rhythms that may not initially fall upon our ears  and hearts with pleasant resolve; but let us celebrate through song the resolve that God is always at work redeeming the bad to be good, even very good, in the end.


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