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The Chord

by Tim O'Hearn

In a recent interview, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock told of a time when he was playing with the Miles Davis quintet. The trumpeter was approaching the climax of a solo when Mr. Hancock says he hit a “really wrong” chord. He said Mr. Davis just stopped, then went on to play a few notes that made the chord right. “Years later,” Mr. Hancock said, “I realized that Miles didn’t judge my chord; only I judged it.”

Those in the arts tend to be extremely critical of themselves. Driven to give the audience their best, they find fault in everything they do. Not every performance, painting, or composition can be perfect. Very rarely is anything perfect. But artists, perhaps more than anyone else, expect near perfection. That, after all, is the reason for rehearsals. The problem is, “practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” There is always something we can do better: some choice of word, a brush stroke, a vocal tone, or hand position. We don’t like to hear, “nobody’s perfect,” because we think we ought to be. Many of us are like Mr. Hancock; we judge ourselves more harshly than others do. We judge ourselves more harshly than God does.

Perhaps one of the biggest excuses for not obeying the gospel is the idea that “God could never forgive me of my sin.” No matter what the sin, people fear that it is beyond the bounds of God’s forgiveness, even though there are no bounds to God’s forgiveness. Imagine a man who, in one night, committed assault and battery, lied on oath, and betrayed his best friend after telling him, “I’ve got your back.” This sounds like a habitual liar and a criminal, yet the apostle Peter became one of the leading figures in teaching about God’s forgiveness. Another man was an accessory to murder and executed countless warrants on merely political prisoners. Still, Paul (formerly known as Saul) could say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1:15) One apostle, Simon, was probably an assassin; another, Levi/Matthew, possibly made his living through fraud. None of these were beyond forgiveness. Paul lists a few other sins that are all forgivable.

Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

God does not judge our chord harshly. Instead, he makes it right. The problem is that we sometimes judge our chord. It may indeed be what seems an improper chord. “In many things we offend altogether. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” (Jas 3:2) It is very easy to say the wrong thing in a given situation. Who hasn’t heard or said the wrong thing at a funeral, a hospital bed, or even a less stressful situation. Once the words are out they cannot be recalled; they may strike a wrong chord. But the situation is not hopeless. It may be that the friendship would survive the words, but ends up not surviving the guilt. The person who misspoke avoids the friend because they judge their chord.

Sometimes we need to remember that God forgives, and continues to forgive. If God does not judge our chord, neither should we. Whether it be in word or deed, once we give it to God we should let go of it ourselves. After all, God makes better music than even Miles Davis.

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