Dissonance in “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

This week I got back into writing music. Although I was creating lyrical melodies, I’ve never used as much dissonance as I did in those few phrases. (Non-musician friends: Dissonance is a clashing of harmonies that doesn’t sound right to normal people.) The melodic M7th interval is something I never would have used before studying music in college, but I used it in every phrase this week. It’s funny how something I was taught to avoid at all costs is now my go-to strategy. I guess it takes an acquired taste to appreciate the unfamiliar.

And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

(Genesis 1:31a)

Sometimes I wonder how God could have ever looked at this world He created, that has become so broken, and called it “very good.”

In the past eight weeks, one side of my family has experienced three deaths–both of my grandparents and now a great uncle. The first funeral was a reflective time that evoked peace at the thought that my grandfather was no longer suffering from his progressive disease. The second funeral, just five short weeks after the first, was a time of shock and confusion, filled with more tears and longer hugs than before. My grandmother’s funeral was painfully similar yet vastly different.

Timing is everything. “There’s never a convenient time, but if there was one, now would not be it,” I explained before both funerals. My grandfather’s funeral was during finals week, while my grandmother’s was at the same time as the appointment I had been waiting for six months for, in hopes of finally getting a diagnosis. At the end of the semester, I was in a mindset of closure, and it was easier to accept that my grandfather’s suffering had ended. However, I entered my grandmother’s funeral from a completely different mindset.

After her unexpected and tragic death on a Saturday afternoon, the funeral was scheduled for that Tuesday morning, with the visitation on Monday night. The thing is, on Monday morning I had an appointment 200 miles away to determine whether or not I will be having back surgery. After hearing that I will not be having surgery, we then headed to the next rescheduled appointment; instead of waiting another several months for a cancellation, the doctor’s office squeezed me in for that afternoon. Two major appointments, one day, zero solutions. I did leave with a list of biomechanical problems, most of which I didn’t know I had. (And technically I got suggestions for some symptom relief, but no overall solutions or diagnosis.) The traveling and medical-information overload left me exhausted. That night after the visitation, I felt too tired to have the come-to-Jesus meeting I so desperately needed. So I walked into the funeral the next day unprepared.

One congregational hymn was common to both funerals: “Amazing Grace.” However, at the second funeral, we sang the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” I’ve played and sung this hymn for years, and I had just sung it in one of my classes a week or two before. I knew the lyrics, but I studied them as I held the handout in my hand.

“Thy compassions, they fail not,” I read. I found that I couldn’t keep singing.

I knew this to be true, and I remembered the passage from Lamentations 3 on which this hymn is based. But my mouth couldn’t utter the words as the song continued.

“As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning, new mercies I see.”

After this phrase, I felt the dissonance–the clashing of ideas. The objective truth that God’s compassions never fail, and the subjective perspective of seeing them.

I realized then and there that I hadn’t seen new mercies that morning. Or the morning before. Or the week before when my grandmother was tragically slipping into death’s hands.

I realized that I couldn’t see anything past the pool of tears streaming from my eyes.

Not because of my pain or loss.

Because I realized that not seeing new mercies doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Because I finally felt the ache from holding God at arm’s length.

Because I realized that I have nothing but Him, and I better start looking for His mercies.

God is an artist who had to adjust His artistic style to the brokenness of humanity. He now creates beauty from pain, beautiful melodies from dissonance.

It took my ears two years to fully appreciate the beauty of dissonance. I wonder how long it will take for me to fully appreciate the beauty of God’s sovereign will through suffering.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Lord, give me eyes that see how You make beauty from pain.