The Singing Dad
What is God singing over you?
If I was given £5 for every time I’ve heard someone quoting Zephaniah 3:17, I reckon I’d be a rich man by now. Time and again I’ve heard people recite these memorable words from the Old Testament:
“The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)
Reading that, it’s no surprise it’s quoted so often! There’s so much to love here. I love the fact that my God is with me, that He is not a remote deity whose absence is keenly felt but rather a loving Father whose presence is easily accessed. I love the fact that God is described as a heavenly warrior and that I therefore have a Dad in heaven that not only looks out for me but fights for me and rescues me from my enemies.
"We sing love songs to the relentlessly affectionate Dad revealed in Jesus... In Zephaniah's prophetic vision, it is no longer our songs that ascend to heaven. It is His songs which descend to earth."
I love the fact that my heavenly Father takes great delight in me – that his word over me is, "You are my son, my chosen one, and in you I take great pleasure." I love the fact that my heavenly Dad no longer rebukes me – that He’s not mad with me anymore because His Son Jesus bore my punishment at Calvary. But most of all, more than any of these momentous truths, I love the fact that I have a Father in heaven that rejoices over me and literally "spins around" with singing.
Could there be a more encouraging thought than that? And could there be a more thought-provoking one?
You see, many of us are used to the idea of us being the ones who sing to the Father. This is what Christians do both individually and corporately in worship. We express our adoration to the Father in songs that address Him directly or that declare the limitless landscape of His love. This is a choice, a delight, a lifestyle. We sing love songs to the relentlessly affectionate Dad revealed in Jesus. We compose and express songs in the image of a music-making Father. All this is good but Zephaniah 3:17 offers us an even better picture. It shows us the Father is singing to us and indeed over us! In Zephaniah’s prophetic vision, it is no longer our songs which ascend to heaven. It is His songs which descend to earth.
And that’s the exact opposite of what we normally think! Indeed, Zephaniah 3:17 points to an aspect of God’s nature which is fascinating to me. It shows that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a singing Dad – a Dad who fills the earth and the galaxies with His music and who sings love songs over His children.
I remember the first time I read C.S. Lewis’ story, The Magician’s Nephew, and I came across Lewis’ description of the creation of Narnia in chapters 8 and 9. I was moved then and I am moved now by the way in which Aslan the Lion creates the universe through song. A boy called Digory hears it:
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It seemed to come from all directions at once. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it”.
C.S. Lewis was of course writing children’s fantasy when he conceived of a singing, lyrical Creator. But it seems today as if science is beginning to give fuller voice to what stories like this have depicted. For example, some scientists argue that "the universe is composed not of matter but of music" (Dr Donald Hatch). They propose - that everything in our universe is made up of certain types of waves or pulsing vibration.
The branch of quantum physics known as ‘Super String Theory’ goes even further, stating that particles function like the musical notes of elementary strings. Particles are like strings stretched down the frets of a guitar which, at a certain tension, produce musical notes when plucked. The only difference with elementary particles is that they are not tied to anything as guitar strings are. They float in space-time and yet, like strings, they are stretched out and have a tension which produces the equivalent of music!
"...they clearly reveal that the Father who created the universe to the sound of music has not stopped being musical - that indeed He rejoices over His children with singing."
Could it be that science is starting to confirm what story and Scripture celebrate – that the whole world is in fact the Creator’s song? To be sure, these things are a mystery. As God says in the book of Job:
"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7 NIV)
We weren’t there at the beginning. And yet the Scriptures say that the morning stars sang together when the universe was formed. And they clearly reveal that the Father who created the universe to the sound of music has not stopped being musical – that indeed He rejoices over His children with singing.
What a thought that is!
Having said all that, I can’t finish there because I believe the Father sings another kind of song as well. Not just a song over the children He’s adopted, but a song over the spiritual orphans who are still to find their way home into his arms. Not a song in a major key… but a lament in a minor key.
One of my favourite films is called August Rush. It’s all about an 11-year-old orphan who is a musical genius. His biological father and mother are very gifted musicians – his dad is a rock singer and his mum a virtuoso cello player. At the very beginning, we hear August Rush saying the following: "Listen. Can you hear it - the music? I can hear it everywhere, in the wind, in the air, in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do is listen."
"Do you know what music is? It's God's reminder to us that there is something else besides us in this universe."
As August grows up, people try to stop him composing and playing his music. But August presses on, convinced that if he can learn how to play the guitar really well his parents will one day hear him and know he is theirs and find him. As August says, "Sometimes the world tries to knock it out of you but I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales. I like to imagine that what I hear came from my mother and my father. Maybe the notes I hear are the same ones they hear. Maybe that’s how they found each other. Maybe that’s how they’ll find me".
As August continues his journey he makes friends with another orphan called Arthur. He too is musical. One day they go into a park and Arthur begins to sing a song to the public passing by:
"Father, hear me when I call your name.
I need you to answer me now.
Father, here I am, weak in your sight.
Can you rescue me now?
I’m crying out – I can’t figure it out on my own".
I remember the first time I saw August Rush I was overwhelmed by this song. It’s not clear whether Arthur is appealing to his earthly father or to God as his heavenly Father. There is an intentional and powerful ambiguity here. But one thing is clear. The film encourages us to believe in a spiritual dimension to life. As Wizard (acted by Robin Williams) says to August, "Do you know what music is? It is God’s reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe".
There are many reasons why I appreciate this film but one of the main ones is because I too was an orphan and the only thing I really know about my biological parents is that they were extremely musical. Another reason why I love August Rush is because it feels to me like a parable – a down to earth story with a big spiritual idea.
"He sings to the many orphans who have yet to find their way home."
The Bible teaches us that the world is full of spiritual orphans who don’t know their heavenly Father. It is full of people who don’t know that they have a Dad in heaven who created the universe to the sound of music and who wants to rejoice over them with a happy song. It is full of orphans like Arthur who are singing a song of anguish to their Father, longing for home. It is full of boys and girls like August Rush who are trying to sing their way back to the divine Music Maker. It is full of lost souls who are longing to be found.
Perhaps the most emotive word in the whole movie is a word uttered by August in response to a question posed by Wizard (a kind of modern day Artful Dodger). "What do you want to be in the world? I mean the whole world. What do you want to be? Close your eyes and think about that." August replies, "Found."
So many people in this orphan generation long to be found. The good news is that we have a Father in heaven who has intentionally pursued us in love through His Son, Jesus Christ. This Father hears our songs – both our joyful and our melancholy songs.
"Let's learn to worship the Father who holds the universe together with music and who calls to the lost with the haunting melody of the love of all loves."
He understands song because He invented it. He created the universe through song. He calls to His children today through the sound of music. He sings with joy over those that were once lost but now are found. And He sings to the many orphans who have yet to find their way home.
Let’s listen out for the Father’s song. Let’s respond to His rejoicing with our own rejoicing. Let’s learn to worship the Father who holds the universe together with music and who calls to the lost with the haunting melody of the love of all loves.