Noise and God’s evaluation.
by Dave Skipper
In this series I am taking a unique approach to telling the story of noise:
- surveying the broad sweep of history from a Biblical-theological perspective, and specifically applying this journey to noise.
This article is the fourth part of the second part of the series:
1. Chimeric Noise
2. Creation of Noise
i. Noise and God’s transcendence
ii. Noise and God’s word
iii. Noise and God’s image
iv. Noise and God’s evaluation
v. Noise and God’s plan
3. Curse of Noise
4. Cure for Noise
5. Culmination of Noise
I am focussing in these Creation of Noise articles on the first two chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-2) as that is the foundation of Christian perspectives on origins. There are so many topics to unpack and explore from these two chapters, hence I am spreading this across these five articles. Although there is no mention of noise or of any sounds apart from speech, I take the view that there is a lot that is relevant to noise simply because sounds of all kinds are part of the whole created order, and so the general truths and principles of Genesis 1-2 must have some bearing on noise in particular.
So here goes for the next couple of characteristics of noise as found at the start of history.
2. Creation of Noise
iv. Noise and God’s evaluation
- Clean: the goodness of noise
Interjected throughout the creation week narrative of Genesis 1 are the following statements of evaluation:
Day 1: “God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)
Day 3: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:10b)
Day 3: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:12b)
Day 4: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:18b)
Day 5: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:21b)
Day 6: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:25b)
Day 6: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a)
The creation – the universe, planet Earth, ecosystems, animals and humans, and all the sights, sounds, and smells within all the above – was originally and primarily good, all good, very good. Noise – noise textures, noisy sounds, and noise/music possibilities – as part of the created order was therefore also originally and primarily good, all good, very good. But what does good mean? (And what does it not mean?) Here are some thoughts…
- Good means excellent. The execution of God’s imagination in his handiwork is of the highest quality and calibre. He has the highest standards and all the power to do as he wishes.
- Good means pure. The word ‘good’ has been weakened in the English language through lazy overuse. But in its truest sense there is a depth to the unadulterated purity which goodness signifies and exudes.
- Good means as intended, and therefore without error or mistake. Everything was created with a purpose and working properly. God didn’t run out of ideas or make things on a whim. Everything exists for his glory, and at the completion the creation week it was mission accomplished. Now, I would argue that mistakes are part of being human, and that we often learn and discover good things though innocent mistakes. I distinguish this from moral mistakes (which are subsumed under the Biblical category of sin) and also from mistakes which lead to damage or death (which are consequences of living in a now-fallen world). Similarly, errors and glitches and unforeseen outcomes are integral to a lot of noise and noise music and experimental music methods and systems. Again I don’t see these as being necessarily related to the post-fall state of creation, though there are undoubtedly at least some links or correlations. In what ways, and to what extent, the physical world changed following the entry of sin and death is largely up to speculation, but I will pursue these questions some more in the subsequent Curse of Noise articles.
- Good means satisfying. God was completely happy and content with what he made, how he made it, and how it all turned out.
- Good means uplifting/constructive. Good things uplift the soul and nourish the heart and mind. There is joy and peace behind goodness and springing forth from goodness. The good creation definitely does these things.
- Good means complete, coherent. (See next section further down.)
- Goodness involves the perfect blend of form and function. Opposing both ugliness and meaninglessness, true goodness maximises all dimensions: ethical, aesthetic, utilitarian, emotional, social, and so on.
- Good means without corruption, without fear or danger, and without disease or suffering or death. This sounds far-fetched and preposterous to many minds. Our life experience and the world we see around us apparently belie this statement. But this is what the Bible teaches and I believe it: disease, suffering, and death were not present at the start. Their entry will be the topic of the forthcoming Curse of Noise articles. The creation, emphatically including mankind and the animal kingdom, was designed to thrive and grow from that start. The notion of survival of the fittest was not present. Noise was therefore not originally an associate or indicator of decay, disorder, or danger. This is a bold and provocative claim, and clearly this line of thought needs a lot of development and exploration.
- Good means without sin. This is actually the most significant point of all and it precedes and explains the previous point. Sin (meaning rebellion against God and his law, and the resultant separation from God and marring of the whole creation) is emphatically the primary issue at stake according to the entire ensuing story of the Bible. The moral and ethical perfection of the original creation is important first of all because it confirms and reveals the goodness of God himself. The Bible unceasingly declares God’s character as absolutely good, pure, righteous, holy, just, trustworthy, and merciful. His goodness is stamped on the creation. He is not capricious, cruel, changeable, unjust, or flawed in any way. His goodness precedes and defines all goodness. Second, the goodness of creation establishes the underlying or inherent harmony of the creation itself. Sin and the effects of sin in all its forms (such as conflict, corruption, suffering, and death) although ubiquitous now are not to be considered fundamental to how the universe operates or how human behaviour and culture should be.
God’s noise is good noise: all ‘natural’ sounds in the world (whether generated by water, wind, fire, rocks, or animals, and by many and diverse mechanisms and processes) were designed and created by God with all of the above characteristics, and none of the below characteristics:
- Good does not mean boring.
- Good does not mean bland.
- Good does not mean smooth.
- Good does not mean sterile.
- Good does not mean tidy.
- Good does not mean uniform.
- Good does not mean predictable.
- Good does not mean shallow.
- Good does not mean divine. What do I mean by this? There is always a fundamental divide between Creator and creation. God’s goodness is one of his communicable attributes, meaning that it can be shared with what he has made. His goodness is the source: all other goodness is derived from, and gifted by, him. But to share in his goodness does not bridge that essential divide. Goodness cannot be a means to metaphysical union with God. However, goodness is essential for relational union with God. To commune with God, and to be in his personal, loving, living presence, requires complete goodness, for he cannot allow sin in his presence. When that goodness is tainted, the relationship with God has to be ruptured. Again, this topic will come up in more detail later in the series. The basic point here is that there is no ‘chain of being’ (either continuous or stepped) between us and God, or between the world at large and God, or indeed between other spirit beings and God, and so his declaration of the creation as as good must be understand in that context.
Goodness as perfection certainly indicates ethical perfection and functional perfection, but this perfection must not be then narrowed down to, for example, geometric perfection. Perfection doesn’t preclude mess, strangeness, and unpredictability. So trees are not shaped like triangles, and the overwhelming majority of sounds are not pure sine waves. Technically speaking, most ‘natural’ sounds are noise.
Noise belongs in a world of wispy smoke, mottled bark, intricate webs, and jagged mountains.
Noise is at home in the soil and grit of the earth.
Noise thrives among disparate weather systems, innumerable insect species, crashing waterfalls, and flaming stars.
Noise is in the realm of fractals and spirals, collisions and explosions, subtleties and surprises.
And what of the transition from six declarations of ‘good’ to the climactic ‘it was very good’? This indicates first of all the completion of God’s creative works (see section below), and secondly the culmination of these works in the creation of mankind as the pinnacle, made in the very image of God. ‘Good’ was already a wonderful status to have in the sight of God, but ramping up to ‘very good’ is something else.
God made this world very good. God made noise very good. God made mankind’s potential uses and development of this world and of noise very good.
- Coherence: the legitimacy of noise
Finally we can dip our toes into the second chapter of Genesis:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.”
Completed: nothing missing.
Completed: nothing more needed.
Completed: everything in its place, everything fitting together, everything ready to go!
Think of the converse: if anything was missing then the heavens and the earth would be incomplete. So if there was no noise then the heavens and the earth would be incomplete! Noise is vital for the overall integrity and detail of the world! The legitimacy of noise lies in its very existence and possibility. One of my favourite little books (it’s actually a booklet) is by the Dutch art historian Hans R. Rookmaaker, entitled, “Art Needs No Justification” (review to appear at some point in the Book Reviews article series). It argues the point (from a Christian point of view) very simply and elegantly. To paraphrase in this blog’s context: ‘Noise Needs No Justification’, and, ‘Noise Music Needs No Justification’.
Incidentally Genesis 2:1 is another verse that goes against the grain of evolutionary theories. Whilst micro-evolution is easily observed in nature, and accords with the idea that new possibilities of development and progress are latent within the creation, macro-evolution requires long ages of no lifeforms, pre-developed lifeforms and primitive lifeforms. A completed creation, including as it does the creation of life in the first week, takes a different view. This is not the place to delve into the creation-evolution debate in any depth, but insofar as noise is concerned I am arguing that the original goodness and legitimacy of noise puts a different spin on noise itself compared to its place within an evolutionary worldview.
‘Their vast array’: the magnificent extremes, from the most distant galaxies and quasars and pulsars, right down to the proliferation of sub-atomic particles and quarks. A veritable cornucopia of objects, systems, hues… and noises.
The harmony of the spheres, the coherence of the cosmos, the perfection of the creation project! The Bible assumes a holistic perspective on the world: everything is interconnected, interdependent, intertwined. All branches of scientific endeavour should be innately interlinked. Compartmentalisation results in skewed and partial knowledge. But while noise is in this way indispensable, so also it is only one part of the whole. Thus the role of noise should be neither understated nor overstated. The completion of the the heavens and the earth indicates a beautiful balance, a staggering complexity orchestrated together into a breathtaking simplicity. Here again we have echoes of the Trinity – the one and the many, the full maximisation of both unity and diversity, ostensibly delicate but in actuality unbreakably robust.
Noise as originally conceived and created by God had this limitation: it was limited to only good and pure and excellent purposes and effects. Any form in which noise can and did exist in the universe as originally created was completely good: noise saturated and undiluted in God’s perfect intentions. Noise as part of a clean and coherent world. Noise in paradise, what a thought!
The Christian doctrine of creation – that all things were created out of nothing by God’s word, and that it was all made good and ethically pure – goes against many other systems of philosophy and belief from through the ages. Chance does not reign, randomness is not king. The universe is personal throughout, not impersonal. The spiritual realm is real and pervasive: this is not a material-only world. Conflict and decay and death are not inherent to how the cosmos runs, they are aberrations from what should be the norm. The implications of these statements are deep and wide-ranging for many fields of study. Think of this article as merely one tiny teaser or taster.
I subtitled this article Noise and God’s evaluation. God gives true value to all that he made. To have the Eternal, Almighty, Holy God pronounce the whole creation as ‘very good’ is stunning and wonderful. The value he gives his creation is inestimable. It follows, then, that he desires and requires of us not only to worship and serve him first as our Maker, but then for us to love and serve and care for his world and for each other as we value what he has made. What that means for us in terms of some of the functions and original purposes for the world, mankind, culture, and noise/music will be the topic of the last remaining article left in this Creation of Noise sub-series: Noise and God’s plan. After that I will move onto Curse of Noise, where all the negative aspects of noise will come into play and to the fore.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!