Music, Emotion and the Content the Psalms

By March 7, 2019 June 10th, 2019 No Comments

Music moves us in ways that other forms of expression can’t.  Music and song touch us emotionally and profoundly. It’s interesting that when we listen to pleasurable music, primitive portions of our brain that are largely responsible for mood and motivation become energized.  These systems in our brains are also intertwined and networked with the same kinds of pleasure systems that light up when we eat good food, enjoy intimacy, or obtain rewards. This means that music turns us on. This is why you find it in so much human culture. It feels good to us, and it engages our moods in ways that prose alone often doesn’t. Consider how love songs incite you to longing, sadness or anticipation.  Or how songs from your childhood elicit happiness, or flood your mind with waves of nostalgia. Consider how some music just makes you want to dance, sing, or shout.

Because humans are pretty smart, and because we know that music does these things, we tend to encode our emotions into our music. Consider this when you read through the psalms.  Although we can’t experience the emotions in the same full way that the original audiences of the psalmist did, perhaps we can get a glimpse of them by just being aware that the psalmist was trying to convey them through music. Look at Psalm 16 and notice the emotions that David expressed in his song.  He sings about his delight in the people of his land that are believers (Psalm 16:3), and how he is so disgusted with those who run after other Gods that he won’t even say their names with his own mouth (Psalm 16:4). You can almost feel the electricity in his chest as he sings about the gladness of his heart because of his trust for the Lord (Psalm 16:8-10).

In his final words for the song, he acknowledges how God makes known the path of life, how he finds joy in the pleasure of God’s presence, and how he anticipates everlasting pleasures by being near to God (Psalm 16:11).

Knowing that David set his words to public music gives us insight into how strong his faith was, and how it was moving him to express it.  How does your faith move you to express your love of God?

Mike Hosey

Author Mike Hosey

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