From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
One of the great puzzles about our future state in heaven is, won’t we be bored? I know there will be lots and lots of joy and love and worship. I’m not worried about heaven being bland and stale; surely God loves us more than to let that happen! It’s just that I can’t imagine how it will be. Specifically, if there’s no danger, no difficulty, and if we always know the outcome will be good, then where’s the interest or excitement? Where’s the challenge?
A couple nights ago I was listening to Saint-Säens’ Third Symphony, the Organ Symphony. As a trombonist I fell in love with this music in college: it’s loud and brassy in all the right places, but it also calls on the trombone for one of the sweetest soft melodies in all classical music. I’ve heard this symphony often. I know what’s coming next, all the way through it. There will be no surprises in it for me ever again, except (I hope) the kind of new discovery that comes from catching some inner part I’ve never noticed before.
What’s your favorite song or composition? I’m hoping you can think of something longer and stronger than the typical rock, pop, or country songs, because the longer and better the piece is, the more likely it will illustrate what I’m saying here. Pat Metheny’s First Circle is a great jazz example.
Whatever your favorites might be,
- Have you ever noticed how time stops during great music—even as it flows onward?
- Have you ever felt the conflict of discord in it?[1. Discord or dissonance, in most music (not all) can be described non-technically as the sense that this is not a good place to land; that the music needs to go somewhere yet, because to stay here would be uncomfortable. It is a central feature of virtually all Western music since the Renaissance, and most music from all around the world. Some Buddhist and Hindu music avoids it, as did Gregorian chant.]
- Have you ever felt the anticipation of your favorite part coming up soon? There’s desire there, a strong wanting, yet you know it’s right that it take its time coming. Even the wanting is good.
- Have you ever felt the satisfaction of the music reaching its goal in the end?
These are all part of the universal experience of music. And they happen while everything is exactly the way it should be. Amazing, isn’t it: perfection can include discord, anticipation, conflict, and resolution! These are the very things that keep interest alive in the life that’s familiar to us.
Further, we might wonder whether there will be any challenge and any personal growth in heaven. I think there will be. The Bible says there will be no more sin there, and no more crying. It does not say there will be no more trying. I’m speculating of course, but I won’t be at all surprised if musicians make mistakes there. To have trouble with a difficult passage is not sin. Some of my favorite hours on earth have been spent struggling my way through a tough passage to play it better than before. These struggles have been good, not bad.
Not all of those struggles, by the way, have been about getting the notes right. I’ve tried many times to play Bach’s Cello Suite in D Minor. It lays fairly well on the trombone (not like it does on the cello, but close enough for a trombonist’s purposes). The notes are not the problem. I can get through them easily enough (or I could when I was practicing more often). But there’s music in there to which I’ve never attained. Bach’s genius is beyond me. It might just take forever to get to it. Nevertheless, trying to reach it has always been terribly satisfying. It’s always been a labor of love and delight, even as far as I have been from the goal. I think I could be that way for a long, long, long time.
What will heaven be like? I still don’t know. But the lesson of music assures me that perfection really can include conflict, anticipation, dissonance, resolution, challenge, even failure, and continuing growth. Knowing that such things are possible in the midst of perfection, I am sure the way they will manifest in heaven will be deeper, richer, more involving and interesting than we can imagine.
It won’t be boring there.
Also at First Things: Evangel