Background: Acts 16:16-40
My wife mocks my love of “coffeehouse music,” the unplugged renditions of familiar songs sung by the original artists or my relatively unknown singers offering a cover of the original version. I enjoy the softer chords without the amplified noise. Truthfully, I don’t listen to a lot of music until I get in my car. Once I turn the key, however, my car becomes my private and personal recording studio. That being said, my imagined talent undoubtedly sounds as little more than “joyful noise.”
Music speaks to me in ways that other human speech does not. There is something personal in the lyrics and the tune that reaches into the core of human emotion…especially it seems when life is darkest.
I am a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien. I read his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy more times than I can remember and watched the movie adaptations countless times. Tolkien, a professor at Oxford was a devoted Christian and, together with his friend C. S. Lewis, looked for ways to share their faith through the lives of those they created in their rich and descriptive fantasy worlds. One doesn’t need to look too deeply to recognize the thread of Godly truth weaving through their stories.
Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, authors of Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, speak to the way Tolkien sprinkled his story with song. Some light. Some airy. Some raucous. Some mournful. Some sung in more desperate times.
At one point in the story Frodo lay bitten by Shelob, a huge, carnivorous spider. Sam rescues Frodo, but sees a lifeless body. As the orcs drag Frodo’s body away, Sam overhears that his friend and companion is in a deep coma. Sam follows, trying to gather his courage to free Frodo from the prison tower. As his resolve ebbs away in the gloom of the stairwell, Sam begins to whisper a song. The song fills him with courage and he rises up, singing all the louder to confront and dispatch his enemies. It was a pivotal moment in the film.
The words reflect strongly a believer’s trust in a higher presence that sustains within and beyond the present circumstances.
Though here at journey’s end I lie
In darkness buried deep,
Beyond all towers strong and high,
Beyond all mountains steep.
Above all shadows rides the Sun
And stars forever dwell.
I will not say the day is done,
Nor bid the stars farewell.
History suggests that music is a language of emotion in every culture of every age. It affects us in profound and subtle ways. In our culture, a lively song written in a major key fills us with happiness. A slow song written in a minor key can evoke sadness. Music serves as a catalyst for our worship, expressing our deepest feelings for the Father in heaven. Reminds us of the strength of our gratitude for the salvation he provided. Soothes our troubled spirit just David’s harp calmed Saul’s anxious heart. Sustains us during difficult times as songs of praise and worship encouraged Paul and Silas in a Philippian dungeon.
As the biblical story unfolds in Acts, Paul and Silas found themselves in a difficult and dangerous situation. It had been a brutal day. It started well as God worked through them to heal a disturbed and demonized slave girl. Her owner stirred up a riot against the two missionaries for taking away his means of income. The crowd rose against them, beating them with sticks, until the authorities arrived and tossed them unceremoniously into jail.
Unable to nurse their wounds, the two men rested their heads against the coolness of the stone, hands and feet bound and chained, bodies bruised and bleeding. In the darkest moment of night, instead of crying out to their jailers for mercy, Paul and Silas sang.
While they sang their song, the earth shook. Their chains broke free and their frightened jailer let them go. Scripture doesn’t tell us what songs they sang, but I suspect the lyrics could have resembled the words of Sam’s song or the words of this old Quaker hymn, shared by Bruner and Ware, which celebrates a believer’s faith in God’s sheltering hand.
What though the tempest round me roars?
I know the Truth, it liveth;
What though the darkness round me blows?
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
To friends and strangers who have lost loved ones in recent days and those living through difficult times, Bruner and Ware said it well. Because of the God who loves us and gives our weary hearts comfort, we live assured of this one thing…
“It is never so dark we cannot sing.”