Harsh sounds and dainty feet

11 03 2011

Dissonance is a musical term for, well, this (“best” part is 25-35 seconds in – but stick at it; it does resolve).  It may not be the sort of music that you find relaxing, but it is music, and is different from a child palming random notes.

Harsh sounds come in other forms too.  Psychologists talk about cognitive dissonance, a theory developed by Festinger in the 1950s.  This is the uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in your mind at the same time.  The tension increases with the importance of the subject to us, how strongly the dissonant thoughts conflict and our inability to rationalise or explain away the conflict.  An oft quoted example is a smoker who reads (and believes) the warning ‘Smoking Kills’ every time they light up, but still enjoys a cigarette.

Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting beliefs or actions in order to relieve the tension that we feel. (In the smoking example – I like smoking so I will ignore the health warning;  I’m scared by the health warning so I will give up smoking.)  I’m not a psychologist, but this makes a lot of sense to me – I do not like to feel uncomfortable. 

Of course I would feel differently if I were taking part in funambulism – wouldn’t you?  Here, tension is key.

Funambulist needs tension – photo wikipedia

So why am I off down this wire today?  It’s because I read 2 Samuel 22 and I’m experiencing serious dissonance.  The first part of the chapter is fine – David’s thanks to God for his protection – and there is the beautiful picture of God’s intervention on David’s behalf – “He stooped down from heaven and rescued me…because he delights in me.”  That’s the kind of God I like; I would like him to do that for me. 

But there follow two dissonant sections.  The first is David’s self-righteous boasting and the second a tempestuous description of God’s anger against David’s enemies.  I am uncomfortable with both. 

The Message gives a slant on the mutuality of David’s relationship with God which helps decrease the dissonance of the first part – “When I cleaned up my act, he gave me a fresh start.”  But the enemies…

Is it nonsensical to live with the tension of things I don’t understand?  Is it a cop out to say, “But God knows”?  I don’t think it is.  Faith is a lot like tight rope walking – there is a necessary tension.    All my knowledge is incomplete, all my understanding is blurred, everything points to the fact that I am not God.  I need the tension to keep me from self delusion – God is God; I am not.

One day…all will be revealed.  Until then, anyone for funambulism?

“Christianity is not interested in tempting you to believe contradictory nonsense. It evokes mystery now and then; it does not invoke nonsense.”

D A Carson




One response

9 04 2011
Does prayer change things? « moses supposes

[…] There are two big truths taught in the Bible and I need to grasp how to hold them together.  It’s another example of tension. […]

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