Attributes of God.
by Dave Skipper
In Voice of Noise 1/4 I introduced Psalm 29 which vividly describes through poetic imagery the sound, power, and effects of God’s voice.
What does the sound, the noise, the thundering of God’s voice actually communicate? We are not left guessing as Psalm 29 specifically indicates a number of God’s attributes that directly tie into the sound and power of his voice. These are not a complete list of all God’s attributes, and neither are they a complete list of God’s attributes that are demonstrated in noise, but they do cover a lot of ground.
Keep in mind that this particular psalm is about the voice of God in its timbre and its effects, not about the words of God per se. It’s a remarkable case study in how noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal God. The attributes in this psalm are not randomly picked out. They are deliberately highlighted to communicate coherently and consistently with the content and context of the whole psalm.
In this article I will briefly survey those attributes of God’s which appear in Psalm 29. First, here is the text of the psalm again:
A psalm of David.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
worship the Lord in the splendour [or beauty or majesty] of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King for ever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Section 1 (verses 1-2): before the noise begins
Before any of the turbulent activity gets underway later in the psalm, we are introduced to some of the primary attributes of God. This is an important reminder that God is not defined in the first place by what he does in relation to the creation. He is not defined or bound by the noise of his voice, nor by the effects of his voice.
To ascribe means to credit with, to acknowledge, to recognise. God doesn’t need any affirmation from us, but as his creatures it is our prerogative and duty to ascribe to him as directed in this psalm. This is actually good and beneficial for ourselves to do, as it helps us to restore and maintain a healthy and balanced perspective on ourselves and this world. Ascribing to God also mysteriously brings pleasure to God himself. We were made to do this!
- Unquenchable Brilliance: He is Glorious
“Ascribe to the Lord glory…”
In his eternal and unique essence, God’s glory is undoubtedly among his foremost traits. It is one of the most mentioned of his attributes throughout the Bible, and is the first one to appear is this psalm.
What is God’s glory? The Hebrew word translated as glory is kabod, literally meaning weight or heaviness. It thus carries with it a sense of seriousness and importance, of gravitas. It conveys an aura of brilliance and majesty. But far more than an aura that merely extends and emanates, it indicates that he is through-and-through brilliant and majestic. Even more than that, he is the one and only source, the very definition of brilliance and majesty..
This kind of supreme glory is one-of-a-kind, and it beckons and commands honour, respect, obedience, worship.
To glimpse the glory of God is to be compelled to worship him. It is to experience an unearthly heaviness: not an emotional heaviness as when your spirit is weighed down by sorrow or depression or foreboding. It’s the heaviness of bearing witness to something so deeply profound and so far beyond the limits of the mundane that you feel as though you have been shown hidden treasures of unspeakable worth. Any sense of pride or self-sufficiency, any cause for boasting or nonchalance simply vanishes, obliterated by the comparison that is really no comparison at all.
His glory outshines the sun, outweighs the neutron star, outcasts the darkness, and streams far out beyond the outer reaches of our most vividly outlandish visions.
Nothing in all the universe comes close, yet the universe is full of tiny splinters of God’s glory, refracted into our minds and hearts and souls through myriad forms and colours and explosions and patterns and, and, and…
And noise? I have never experienced anything quite like extreme music performed live (most notably harsh noise music) when it’s in full flow for its intensity, density, and all-round ‘weightiness’. The sonic saturation that drowns out all other sounds allows a glimpse from another angle of what the weight of glory is like. It’s no replacement of course, just another reminder and pointer.
I really can’t think of a better word for harsh noise music than intense. And I can’t think of a better word to qualify God’s supreme glory than intense. Intensity may be exhausting, but my mind and heart find a peculiar repose in the throes of intensity…
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name”
Why does it say that glory is due to his name, and not that glory is due to him? The point is that a name represents the whole person, it’s a summary of their entire character, history, reputation. Say someone’s name and you don’t think about how it’s spelt, you think of them: your mind fills with your knowledge, your impression, your relationship with everything that they stand for, everything that they are in themselves.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the intense glory of God.
- Unmatchable Strength: He is Mighty
“Ascribe to the Lord… strength”
Resilience. Fortitude. Magnitude.
Energy. Momentum. Power.
God’s strength is as complete and limitless as are all of his attributes. He has no weaknesses, no incapacities, no limitations.
By his word alone God created the vast expanse and complexity of the entire universe out of nothing. By his word alone he sustains all things. And it’s his word alone which causes and oversees everything that happens in this psalm.
God’s strength encompasses all dimensions, both physical and spiritual. He holds the elements in the palms of his hands, and nothing can resist him. He is mighty to overcome spiritual strongholds and to save and mould hearts that are captured and infested by sin.
We cannot defeat God, we cannot match God, we cannot intimidate God.
The force of noise is a tremendous testament to its Maker: irresistible, overpowering, and yes even destructive. Beyond noise music, witness the power of sonic weapons, medical ultrasonics, and seismic shockwaves.
Faced with competition from other sounds and musics, noise can overcome them all with ease, subsuming them into and under its volume, its chaos, and its spanning of the entire spectrum of frequencies.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the indefatigable strength of God.
- Unimaginable Wonder: He is Beautiful
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness” [note: some translations translate splendour as beauty here]
Beautiful, beautiful. He is softly beautiful, enticing and breathtaking, subtly wooing us home.
Beautiful, beautiful. He is too beautiful: too beautiful to describe, too beautiful to take in.
His beauty – and only his beauty – fully satisfies, yet we are never satisfied.
His beauty is always enough, yet it is never enough.
His beauty is layered and fragrant, simple and penetrating, profound and impenetrable.
Beautiful, beautiful. His beauty is as he alone is.
Everything beautiful that mankind has ever known, experienced, designed, created, made, dreamed, or imagined… all of these things pale into insignificance next to the undiluted beauty of God. All other beauty comes from him and points back to him.
Any measure or form or appreciation of beauty that can be found in the delightfully gritty waveforms, aggressive textures, and vibrant details of noise – these also come from and return to the God of beauty.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the enchanting beauty of God.
- Unapproachable Purity: He is Holy
“Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness”
Holiness means separate, set apart. If there is any characteristic of God that takes on paramount importance in the Bible, then surely this is it.
Holiness certainly goes hand in hand with glory: both share the sense of brightness, splendour, and depth. These are heavy concepts, far removed from frivolity or superficiality.
God’s holiness also represents his ethical perfection and purity. There is no wickedness, no darkness, no failure in God. He is incapable of evil, and cannot stand the presence of evil.
He is also set apart in his very essence: eternal God of God, uncreated, pure Being. Unchanging, yet dynamic in relationship.
He is utterly other. Purer than pure. He is staggeringly holy. He dwells in unapproachable light, and his light leaves no shadow hidden from his gaze.
The splendour of his holiness, or the beauty of his holiness – wow. The very opposite of popular misconceptions of holiness. Not staid, not boring, not a killjoy. The holiness of God dictates the possibility and habitation of ultimate splendour and beauty.
One of the central commands of God in the Bible is to “be holy because I am holy.” This is a big topic for another time, but one implication is that all our human activity has the potential to be holy, to be made holy, to be set apart and dedicated to the pure worship of God. Therefore noise and noise music can and should also be holy. All of life, all our creativity, can flesh out the holiness of God in our world.
What would holy noise be like? What vision of noise could move in the direction of purity and set-apartness in a way that accentuates and explores the very features of noise that more apparently lend themselves to brokenness, dirt, imperfection, and pain?
I believe that such a vision is possible, and would yield noise music well worthy of the name.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the incredible holiness of God.
Section 2 (verses 3-9): noise storm unleashed
- Unmistakable Revelation: He Speaks
“The voice of the Lord…”
This is the heart of Psalm 29, the refrain repeated seven times. The voice is the chief mode of communication and revelation, most commonly in the form of words, but by no means exclusively as this psalm so vividly demonstrates.
God’s voice, as considered in Voice of Noise 1/4, thunders and cascades into a display of phenomenal elemental noises. These sounds complement, augment, and exemplify his words.
It’s the most amazing thing: God deigns to speak to us, to reveal himself to us, to communicate with us! Alongside his written word in the Bible, he has designed the world itself to speak of him. How precious and personal this shows him to be, entering into relationship and conversation with us!
Noise itself is therefore an audio cue to listen to God, to remember him and to take careful note of who he is and what he is like. Left to our own subjective interpretations we wouldn’t get far, hence the value of this psalm in elucidating so many of his attributes that noise points to.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the inviting voice of God.
- Unstoppable Capability: He is Powerful
“The voice of the Lord is powerful”
How is power distinct from strength? Strength can be passive, but power is unmistakably active. Strength can indicate the ability to resist other forces, but power is unmistakable in its direct effects.
The following verses in this psalm give concrete examples of this power, the power of God’s voice: breaking cedars and making the ground to shake.
Cedars of Lebanon are colossal trees: incredible power is required to snap them like twigs! And God does this not by the power of machinery or of other objects, but solely by the power of pure sound!
And earthquakes too: the terrifying shifting of gigantic slabs of land… caused by a voice?!? The psalmist speaks figuratively but the point is well made and clear. In fact the truth is even more astounding: God doesn’t audibly speak to cause the ground to move, his words are his will brought into being, going unheard by human ears. The actual silence, physically speaking, of his voice is that powerful!
No one would dispute the great power of noise to create upheaval, panic, confusion, deafness. And when stripped of those negative associations and consequences, the raw power of pure noise in the outer extremes of creative music-making has a positive power, unique and awesome.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the invincible power of God.
- Uninhibited Splendour: He is Majestic
“The voice of the Lord is majestic”
He is at once the designer and crafter and wearer of the jewels of his own being. He is studded with wisdom to rule through his unwavering righteousness and bewildering compassion. Multi-faceted unlike any crystal this planet can forge, an intertwining of perfections beyond the scope of this finite cosmos.
More than beauty, his splendour is indicative of his kingship: worship his Majesty, for he defines majesty itself. Awe-inspiring, devotion-inspiring, obeisance-inspiring.
The triumphant amalgamation of glory, sovereignty, power, beauty, splendour… majesty dovetails, overlaps, mirrors, sums up all of these.
And noise? Where is the majesty in noise?
Noise is majestic when it invokes that sense of overpowering dominance and awe from outside self that nevertheless beckons and invigorates.
Any scope for fear from danger is overridden by the allure and lure of precious jewels of immense value. The jewels of noise are a secret treasure trove for the initiated listener, speaking volumes to the heart in tones that simultaneously humble and elevate.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the incomparable splendour of God.
- Unlimited Control: He is Sovereign
God’s sovereignty is more than his ability to do as he pleases, it is his active and deliberate action in actually doing what he purposes.
Characterised by wisdom, justice, and mercy, his sovereignty spreads to every atom and every quark, every space and every interstice, every breath and every heart.
The sovereignty of God is among the most unpopular of Christian beliefs, but it is unmissable throughout the pages of the Bible. It demolishes pride, and so provokes indignation and anger. It demolishes pride, and so instils humility and peace. Which side do you land on?
The planning and control that the Noisician exerts, whether slight or significant, in creating works of sound art is a nod to acknowledging that God is in ultimate control of his works.
Noise is not truly random and chaotic, appearances notwithstanding. Mathematical and scientific advances continue to unravel and expand on the unavoidable order undergirding and overarching the forms, processes, and results of noise.
Noise may try to escape control and meaning, but it is in the deeper truths of God’s sovereignty and the meaning that he imputes to all things that we discover noise has more than enough space in which to thrash and writhe with ferocity and purpose.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the infinite sovereignty of God.
- Unrestrained Action: He is Confident
God is not embarrassed by noise. Nor is he timid when he makes or utilises extreme noise. Noise is therefore not to be viewed as primarily wrong or troublesome (although obviously it can be those things).
If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well. If art is to be created, if noise is to be made, then throw everything into it! This has been one of the most liberating and exciting lessons I have learnt from my noise artist friends. No-holds-barred, all-out noise without holding anything back. Don’t be shy!
But it’s not just about personal confidence, it’s about revelling in the unleashed noise itself, letting it flourish and fulfil its potential. Noise as it should be: to the max with all knobs turned to 11! Let the sounds speak for themselves, and give them your full attention!
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the inherent confidence of God.
- Unique Craftsmanship: He is Creative
The diversity of noises hinted at in this psalm are of course just a smattering compared to the full plethora of sounds in the natural world. As the designer and creator of all things, God must be attributed with all the credit for thinking up all the sonic possibilities and their means of causation. It’s impossible to place any noise outside of his primary authorship.
Even technologically new noises resulting from human invention and intervention are no surprise to God. Any new or man-made sound falls comfortably within the realms of planned potentialities that he has implanted in the materials and laws of physics that we utilise.
The astonishing and apparently inexhaustible possibilities for sound are testament to God’s limitless imagination and ingenuity.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the intriguing creativity of God.
Section 3 (verses 10-11): in the aftermath of the storm
- Unassailable Rule: He is King
“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King for ever.”
Imagine the scene: floodwaters subsume and destroy all in their path, the pressure and force sweeping over and crushing anything and everything. The waters hold sway, dams and barriers rendered useless.
What human ruler could be said to rule over such a force of nature? To even pose the question is laughable.
God, in total contrast, is King over the flood. He doesn’t strain at the reins, for he reigns even over the rains. His posture? Seated on his throne. God’s reign over the flood is effortless. Complete. Never-ending.
His is not a wobbly rule, a temporary rule, a mistaken rule. The most violent and destructive forces of nature are firmly under his control. He is not engaged in conflict with the flood: he sends it, he owns it, he made it. As the flood, so all other trifling powers and wannabe destroyers.
And noise? As waves of noise engulf, and the pressure of their impact drowns out all other sensations, remember that this ruling power of noise is next to nothing under the throne of God who is King over the wildest of all noises.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the indisputable authority of God.
- Unexpected Resourcing: He Gives Strength
“The Lord gives strength to his people”
Who are his people? Those who gladly bow the knee to this God of glory, holiness, power, and majesty. And what a remarkable position this puts us in: he of infinite strength gives us a portion of that very strength!
What form does our strength from God take? Strength to withstand the storm? Strength to generate our own storms? Strength to survive or strength to thrive? Strength in the face of fear and human opposition, or strength in the face of God’s holy righteousness? Strength to stand in the presence of the eternal King on his throne?
Whatever kind of strength the psalmist David had in mind when he wrote this psalm, we can again find ready parallels to the art of noise-making. Strength to endure the sonic onslaught of noise, coupled with the strength to forge a bold path into extreme sonic explorations. Let these activities be yet more reminders of the strength-giving God who bestows on us creative minds and hands and ears.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the invaluable gifts of God.
- Undeserved Grace: He Blesses
“The Lord blesses his people”
One of the most wonderful strands of truth woven throughout Scripture is that of God delighting to bless his people. Blessing! What a notion! Bringing wholeness, wellbeing, contentment, enhancement, healing, and prosperity. Not necessarily in material or physical manifestations, but at the very least in the heart and mind and soul, wherein we surely most need to be blessed.
Blessing adds a colour and value and awakeness to life that enables an outlook of purpose and peace whatever the outward circumstances.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that noise itself is a gift of God that can be a blessing. Indeed what a blessing it is that he has endowed noise with the capability of communicating so many of his characteristics!
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the incredible grace of God.
- Undiluted Stillness: He Gives Peace
“The Lord blesses his people with peace”
Is this a peace bestowed and experienced in the midst of the storm, despite the storm? Or is it a peace that descends and pervades after the storm subsides?
Is it a peace that is counterintuitively heralded by the noise itself? Or is it a peace that finds its derivation and purpose in the subsequent absence of noise?
Is it an allusion to protection during the destruction all around? Or is it a life-affirming status of having survived through to the other side?
True and lasting peace entails knowing God’s sovereignty. This is a peace that passes understanding. Most of all, this is peace with God: secure refuge in him, complete insulation and inoculation from his righteous anger.
The comparison to experiencing peace in the context of noise music is striking. Peace within noise can denote relaxing in the cocoon that noise provides, or the pure pleasure of finding a musical home in noise. Peace in the aftermath of noise is more obvious to identify with for most people: relief in the calm and safety and quiet after the noise has subsided. Moreover, this peace is accentuated by its contrast to the preceding din.
Thus peace can result from noise for both the noise-lover and the noise-hater!
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the inner peace that comes from God.
All the sections
- Unavoidable Presence: He is Here
Implicit throughout the psalm is God’s presence in and with his creation and his creatures. He isn’t distant, aloof, or unknown. And the world doesn’t operate independently of him. The elements are not autonomous; they do his bidding.
The noises of this psalm are loud and visceral. Like the God they represent, these noises and the violent actions they emanate from cannot be avoided. Even for the deaf, soundwaves and shockwaves penetrate the flesh, sensed throughout the body even if not by the ears.
God does not generally foist his presence upon us with a loud announcement or explicit warning – his presence is simply always here and everywhere. It is assumed, a given. But whether in the stillness or in the storm, his presence is calling to us, showing us his nature if we will only have eyes to see it and ears to hear it.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal the inescapable presence of God.
- Unanimous Verdict: He is the Lord
The word God never appears in Psalm 29. Instead, as in much of the Bible, he is referred to as the Lord. When God is called Lord there are two different words used: one is a general term meaning god, king, overseer; the other means the name of God that he revealed to Moses: Jehovah or Yahweh, meaning “I am who I am”. In some English translations this Hebrew word is written all upper-case as LORD to distinguish it from the common word Lord.
It is the name of God as LORD which is used throughout Psalm 29.
Put all of the above attributes together and a word picture is built up of the LORD. His name encapsulates all that he is. His voice reveals all that he is. Psalm 29 shows us that he is the LORD – to be revered, obeyed, and adored.
As his voice thunders and triggers a visceral noise bombardment in this psalm, so we discover that noise itself has its key role to play in revealing the awesome and multidimensional God who is forever above and beyond.
Noise has the capacity to demonstrate and reveal God for who he is: the LORD.
Why does noise reveal attributes of God? Simply, because that is how he has designed noise to function. His fingerprints are indelibly imprinted on all facets of his creation, and noise is no exception.
The fact that this psalm focuses on noise is not random or incidental, but is deliberate and central to its message and purpose.
As for creative noise-making as an artform, sounds that share common timbral and dynamic characteristics with the noises and scenes of Psalm 29 may also serve as reminders and revelations of who God is.
For example, the next time you hear thundering noise of any kind, remember the majesty of God, the holiness of God, the power of God, the glory of God. Enter into his presence face down and cry out, “GLORY!”
In the next article in this series Voice of Noise 3/4 I will unpack in greater detail some of the structural patterns and details of Psalm 29, and I will hint at parallels to potential compositional and improvisatory processes of the modern-day noisician.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!