This Atheist Couldn’t Sing

[This first appeared as a guest post at Aimee Byrd’s Housewife Theologian. If you haven’t yet been reading her posts, you’ve been missing out!]

Evensong at Canterbury

I was an atheist.

Raised in a liturgical church, by the time I finished up college in California and went overseas to study in England, I was an atheist. Still, I sang a lot of hymns along the way and had even sung in the choir back home for a while. I enjoyed those hymns even after deciding God didn’t exist.


I was traveling around England on Christmas break with a couple of young women from California that I had recently met. They happened to be Christians. They talked a lot about Jesus. I talked a lot about atheism. They wanted to go to the Evensong service. I wanted to hang out with a couple of cute girls. So off we went.

This place is a cathedral, and it is huge. Only a few people showed up, though, and the folks running the show had us all sit in the choir loft. The three of us Americans made up about 25% of the attendees.

The choir at Canterbury Cathedral. I - along with about a dozen other people - sat on the right side. This is a small portion of the entire area for the congregation to gather in the Cathedral for worship.

The choir at Canterbury Cathedral. I sat in the second row on the right side. This is a small portion of the entire Cathedral, viewed from the much larger space where the congregation would gather for large worship services.

Evensong has lots of singing, as you probably surmised from the name of the service. I was looking forward to that part. As we went from one hymn to another, I sang out, even moving off the melodies to take a harmony here or there. I’ve been told I have a good voice so I felt sure I was contributing to the richness of the songs.

Behind us and to the left was an older man who also wasn’t staying on the melodies. He wasn’t hitting any of the harmonies either. He blared out the words to the hymns without regard to any of the hymn writers’ original intentions for the tunes. The man had gusto, but that was about it.

I left that night thinking I had done more to contribute to the service than he.

I was wrong.

The Faithless Noisy Gong

God gave lots of abilities to people in this world. It’s all part of the common grace Jesus spoke of when he pointed out that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45.) Being able to do something well doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to please God, though. Here’s why:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6.)

Pleasing God is impossible without faith. And what was I at the time of that Canterbury Evensong service? Without faith. I no more pleased God with my singing than I pleased him with my atheism.

So what was I really doing at that service? I was a noisemaker:

            If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1.)

That was me, a faithless noisy gong.

The Loving, Approving Father

I get the impression that the older gentleman in the choir loft that night had faith in Jesus, had the love of Jesus, had a belief in the truth that God exists. What did I have? Nothing.

So to God, his voice that night sounded infinitely better than mine.

If you feel reluctant to sing in church, fearing you can’t sing well enough, remember that God loves his children. He thinks they sound wonderful, whether they hit the right notes or not. Just as it is impossible for those without faith to please God, it is impossible for those with faith to come under his disapproval. (Romans 8:1.)

He thinks you – and your singing – are beautiful.

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9 Responses to This Atheist Couldn’t Sing

  1. Nick says:

    Love this, Tim. Convicting for everyone, I imagine.

  2. Love this post! God is a loving father who looks down on us (as a father would a two year old or whatever) and watches our bumbling attempts to worship and follow Him with delight. He doesn’t care if we get all the tunes perfect or if we’re opera singers. He just wants us to be singing. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Teryn, so well put. Parents dote on their children’s efforts and performances, even when they are not pitch-perfect, and God loves us more than any other parent could!

  3. Kathleen says:

    What a great reminder to get rid of our inhibitions, to get our minds off of self and to praise Him because HE is worthy, not because we have something to give! It’s a daily battle as that “old man” is constantly trying to get our eyes off Him and back on self. Love your perspective on this!

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