Up to this point in our study of Psalm 130, we have talked only about the poetic part of a song, but Psalm 130 wasn’t read; Psalm 130 was sung. So I’d like to address the music side of things.
Clearly the music—the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm—doesn’t make a clear statement like words do. So what is the point of music, then? Why did the Hebrews sing Psalm 130 instead of just reading Psalm 130?
Well, we’ve already talked about how the artistic aspects of poetry—the metaphors, the repetition, the word choices—communicate to the heart; they don’t just say something, they show us something; they don’t just communicate to our intellects, they communicate to our imaginations.
This is very similar to how music works. Music doesn’t say something to us in the same way words do; music shows us something. Music is the language of our hearts. Just like poetry communicates through verbal metaphors, music communicates through emotional metaphors. Remember, a metaphor is a symbol. Our sin is not literally a flood of water, but unconfessed sin feels like a flood of water. We are not literally watchmen waiting for the morning, but waiting for the forgiveness of God feels like that.
Music, too, is symbolic. Music sounds the way emotions feel. We know this instinctively, and this is why music is often described as the universal language. No matter who you are, what culture you’re from, or when you’ve lived, all people feel happiness the same way, and sadness, and joy, and grief, and desperation, and hope. And music can represent these kinds of moods and emotions by mimicking the way those moods and emotions feel through the rise and fall of the melody and the rhythm and the harmony and the instrumentation. And in this way, music can further communicate to our hearts and our imaginations more than just words can.
Music can actually communicate emotional messages with much more precision than words can. In other words, music can communicate differences between godly sorrow or worldly sorrow when it would take a whole lot of words to do the same thing.
And because music can do this, God has given us music as a tool to shape and teach our hearts. This is why Colossians 3:16 commands us to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We can use these songs to teach our minds certainly, but even more than that, we use songs to teach our hearts.
So singing in corporate worship is not about entertainment or stimulating emotion; it is a formative tool in which we communicate truth and shape the hearts and imaginations of our congregations.
Now back to the question someone might ask you of 1 John 1:9. What does godly repentance feel like? A carefully chosen song can show us what repentance should feel like.
When you’re living in a state of unconfessed sin, or you are taking the grace and forgiveness of God for granted, a song of repentance may be just what you need to shake you out of your lethargy.