As Christians, we all know how easy it can be to idolise our career. But have you ever considered the way in which music can be particularly liable to becoming an idol?
The dedication demanded
Unlike other careers, to become a professional in the world of music in many cases means near-constant practice. If you’re a student reading this, just think of the number of hours you’ve practised this week. This month. This year. This past decade. If you actually do some calculations, you’ll probably be astonished at just how many hours you’ve sacrificed in order to practise your instrument, and the number of days it amounts to.
Compare that, say, to other students, who, if they’re studying an essay-based subject, can often get away with not working for over half of their week, before cramming in a bit of reading before bashing out an essay in a few hours. And that’s their working week done. Now they can get back to their sports team, their poetry club, or the bar. How lovely to have that freedom and choice! Musicians dedicated to their instrument often simply don’t. Even other art forms such as drama or painting don’t necessarily require the constancy of practice that music requires simply to maintain your level of proficiency. Few things in life demand such continual commitment.
The expressions employed
Did you notice my use of the word 'sacrificed' in the second paragraph? When you begin to think about it, you’ll start noticing the way in which people often use religious language when describing their dedication to music, and moreover, how accepted that language is.
In 1951, the acclaimed Scottish choral conductor Sir Hugh S. Roberton wrote, concerning the imminent dissolution of his famed Glasgow Orpheus Choir:
So, in due time, we plan to lay our 50 years' contribution on the altar of music, a love-offering, complete, intact, in the hope that it may inspire others to follow our example.
The religiosity of such words is startlingly plain. And nobody bats an eyelid. It is deemed entirely appropriate.
If you google the words 'I’ve sacrificed for music', you can find no end of examples of people talking about the time, money, and relationships they’ve sacrificed for music. Perhaps there is no more striking example than that of pianist James Rhodes, who writes how his voracious desire to become a professional pianist cost him '[his] marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of [his] dignity and about 35lbs in weight' in this frankly astonishing article from the Guardian newspaper. What’s more, in this article, the BBC describes this period of Rhodes’ life as 'his redemption through music'! Perhaps most extraordinary is the fact that despite Rhodes’ open admission that musical success hasn’t delivered the 'Disney ending [he’d] envisaged' and that his 'life as a concert pianist can be frustrating, lonely, demoralising and exhausting', he nevertheless considers it totally worth it, and he would do it all again if necessary.
Once more, nobody objects. In fact, the response is that of applause. The first comment beneath the online Guardian article, written less than an hour after it was published, simply reads: 'the most beautiful thing you’ll read this year…'
When it comes to music, here is a god that our culture deems worthy of worship and adoration. Those who are supposedly redeemed through their sacrifices on the altar of music are held up as champions, worthy men to be esteemed and emulated.
The response required
How should we, as Christians, respond? Well, with caution, and with composure.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idolatry.
The Lord is not shy in warning us against idolatry. Such warnings appear throughout Scripture, and they do not hold back! Consider this:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.
Why is this? Well, the Lord tells us in Isaiah:
I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
So take caution with your music.
Taking caution doesn’t mean giving it up. That would be a rash decision, lacking composure. Rather, with a little composure, we can enjoy music and music-making, even being properly dedicated to it, but without worshipping it. Such composure comes from viewing music in its proper place: as a created thing, a good and beautiful created thing (and such things are 'not to be rejected if…received with thanksgiving' - 1 Timothy 4:4), created by a far better and far more beautiful Creator, the Lord God Almighty. The heart of idolatry is, as the Apostle Paul says in Romans, where people have:
exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator – who is forever praised. Amen.”
Pause to ponder
Why not spend a few minutes considering how you might be most prone to falling into this trap of worshipping music, a created thing? But don’t stop there: next, spend another few minutes pondering the beauty and glory of God, as seen chiefly in Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross for you. As you do this, put music in its proper place, and let the Lord become the rightful object of all your worship and adoration.