In 1978 I began my pursuit of an MA degree in music at the University of California, San Diego. This University was well known as a bastion of avant-garde music. I am not an avant-garde musician and I attended there to study with a specific teacher. Nevertheless, I heard, or experienced, a lot of experimental modern music. The keystone of modern music is the exploration of dissonance and randomness. As I progressed through life after graduating, I began to see that more and more of life – not just music – seemed to have the same goals of dissonance and randomness, and this coincided with a time of great decline in religious participation. Were they related?
Peace, as Paul describes it in Galatians 5, is associated with harmony. Peace might well be described as coming into perfect harmony with God. And harmony itself suggests order, rather than randomness. In other words, the pursuit of Peace seems to be based on the exact opposite of the prevalent structures in modern music. If those structures of dissonance and randomness have indeed infiltrated society at large in a predominant way, it’s no wonder Peace seems harder and harder to even contemplate.
For those musicians reading this, we know that in music dissonance is a necessary counterpart to harmony and serves a structural purpose. I am more referring to music where dissonance is the predominant element. If you want to listen to an example of this, try Alban Berg’s opera Wozzek.
My point here, of course, is not musical analysis. If we are to understand Galatians 5, then it is the pursuit of harmony with God that produces the peaceful Fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we, in our daily lives, are pursuing dissonance – unharmony – it stands to reason that we might have trouble connecting with God. It also stands to reason that a dissonant society will increasingly fall away from God.
One of my favorite examples of harmony in the Bible is the scene where David, not yet king, plays his harp to soothe the bitter and soon to be ex-king, Saul. Saul was rejected by God for his lack of obedience to God – an act of dissonance – and was said to have an evil-spirit from God. Nevertheless, he likes David’s playing so much that he asks the unknown shepherd from Bethlehem to stay on and play regularly for him. David had just been anointed by God as the heir to Saul, but he serves Saul like a servant until Saul’s death. Both literally in his music, and figuratively in his service, David creates harmony in Saul’s dissonant world.
David shows us the way to be peacemakers. No, I suppose we aren’t all going to take up the harp, but neither do we have to go out our way to create dissonance, division and strife. If we are to meaningfully emanate the Fruit of the Spirit, we must first learn how to live in harmony with God, than live out that harmony in our lives.