Is it wrong to play music that doesn't directly speak about God?

Questions & Answers March 18, 2017

Q: I’m a musician. Last year I recorded an album of acoustic country music. In December, I experienced a very powerful conversion in my life. I’m still doing music but in volunteer places like the Rescue Mission and church. Is it wrong to play music that isn’t directly speaking about or to Jesus? If I sing about a relationship, or a good day that I had, or a fun place I was at, is that inappropriate if I don’t specifically address God? — Clinton, from the U.S. state of Montana

A: I’m delighted to hear about your powerful conversion experience, and about your involvement with music. I also very much enjoy music and over the years have been involved with it in a number of ways. Most recently, when travel schedules and time permits, I enjoy singing baritone in a men’s quartet at our local church in Maryland.

It seems from your questions that following your recent conversion experience, you are looking for a balance between your music and your new life in Christ, and this is good. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

If the music you were involved with (performing or listening to) in the past lessened your desire for spiritual things (reading the Bible, praying, spending time with God, going to church), or caused you to have thoughts and feelings not consistent with your new life in Christ, then it is best to leave it behind.

“One thing I do,” wrote Paul, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Regarding your question about whether it is wrong to play music that doesn’t specifically mention or address God — no, I don’t believe that in and of itself is wrong. There is a lot of uplifting music that does not directly mention God but can still bring glory to Him.

For example, the composer, J.S. Bach, put the letters “S.D.G.” (Latin for Soli Deo gloria), meaning “Glory to God alone,” not only on his sacred works, but he wrote it on many of his secular compositions as well.

If you aim to bring glory only to God in your life and through your music, I am sure that He will bless you. For one of the most powerful examples of what good music should be like in giving glory to God, carefully read the entire chapter of Revelation 4.

And as a musician, I’m sure you recognize the power of music. It is not something trivial, just revolving around one’s personal taste. Rather, it is a vital force affecting our entire being.

In his New York Times bestseller, “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession,” former rock musician-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains that “music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain … and involve nearly every neural subsystem.”

He goes on to state that “the power of music to evoke emotions is harnessed by advertising executives, filmmakers, military commanders, and mothers. … Music is being used to manipulate our emotions, and we tend to accept, if not outright enjoy, the power of music to make us experience these different feelings” (p. 9).

While I don’t endorse Levitin’s evolutionary viewpoint, his research reveals many important observations about how music very directly affects our mind, our emotions, and our thinking.

As Seventh-day Adventists — people who are looking eagerly for the soon return of Christ, people who have been given the privilege of sharing the last message of hope to a dying world — it is vitally important that we choose wisely what music we are involved with — as listeners or as performers.