The title of this post comes from a question one of my group asked me recently.  We were going over songs various people had enjoyed during a recent summer conference, and I had said I didn't like one song because it didn't make sense. I felt that halfway through the first verse, the song suddenly switched from praising "God the Father" to speaking to your fellow worshipers and getting them to praise more.... the switch seemed very sudden, and I began to wonder how many people singing the song are paying that much attention to the words.

"Why do you think a song needs to make sense?" she asked.  Her point was not so daft as it sounds - the song clearly seems to touch people, they seem to worship to it, and it does seem to draw people into meeting God.  Does it really matter that the sense in the song is a bit all over the place?  People are touched by this song.  None of the phrases are "theologically incorrect" in and of themselves, so perhaps it's OK.

For me, it does matter.  I want to feel that the songs I'm singing are well put together, and that they make sense.  I can't disconnect my brain when I'm worshipping, which means I need to be able to affirm the words with my head as well as my heart.  The feeling I get, when I see such disconnected phrases, is a bit like the feeling I get when I read a badly-punctuated paragraph.  I want to get my red pen out.

And, theologically, I do feel there is something wrong.  The structure of a song, the way it is presented, carries theological freight whether the phrases are true in themselves or not.  Our God brought order out of chaos, and took pride in his creative work.  Shouldn't we aim for the same in our creative work?

Discuss....

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We studied the Psalms in seminary and there's a lot more going on there than most people realize. There's kind of a "code" that you have to know related to sections and how people are addressed - many think the shifts in person are related to liturgical use in the congregation. Also, a lot of the rhyme and metre doesn't make sense to us because it's somewhat archaic or based on the Hebrew.

Psalms do switch point of view quite a bit within the same Psalm, but I feel that the overall themes usually line up pretty well. Again, it's a genre and type of literature we're not familiar with, but very common in the ancient near-eastern world.

Greg - that's a good point - but reading Psalm 97 I can at least see how the themes line up, and I think it at least sticks with a "point of view" for a sentence or two.  And Stevo is right that there are often structures in the Psalms not immediately apparent to those of us used to Western song forms.

At the slight risk of slightly breaking the forum rules... the song we were discussing is this one:

http://www.worshipcentral.org/sites/worshipcentral.org/files/songs/...

As you can see, it changes who it is speaking to quite a few times... the chorus is addressed to the Spirit, the second verse to Jesus (I like this verse), and the first verse begins by being addressed to the Father.  So far, I, have no problem, and actually I very much like this Trinitarian aspect of the song.  My problem comes after the first line of the first verse where, almost without taking a breath, the focus changes from the Father to the fellow worshippers.

So, this jars for me... and (to me) seems much more sudden than the Psalm you mention.  But the song is very popular, so I guess it doesn't bother many people, and maybe it is a matter of judgement and taste.

Yea - it occurs to me that the difference from Psalm 97 (for example) is that there is hardly a breath before the point of view changes. It's too short to switch around like that. In the Psalm, it seems logical and timely to switch. But in the end, I suspect people get it.

I immediately think of the wonderful praise song "How Great Is Our God", which has that "sing with me" thing, which the leader must have inserted to get people to sing on the chorus, but it ended getting recorded and stuck in there forever.  It's barely part of the song at all -- do you do it just once, or every time, or what? (I just sing it every time, because somehow without it the melody line feels blank).  Such a song has "redeeming lyrical value" owing to its many fine features overwhelming this little non-logical glitch.

But we are homo sapiens.  We are designed to think logically.  Songs must have form, usually rhyme, and internal rhythms of all sorts to be satisfying.  "Mercy and truth have met each other; justice and beauty have kissed" - Psalm 85.  Still, a song doesn't need total correctness to work -- we have the ability to generalize, too.  "Home, home on the range... where never is heard a discouraging word / and the skies are not cloudy all day."  ZERO DISCOURAGING WORDS?  ZERO CLOUDY DAYS?  Ever been in a Colorado blizzard?  But the song reflects good, true qualities about the way Western life tops Manhattan madness.  In the Bible as well, "nothing", "never", "forever", "eternal" all mean different things than can be quantified in our crass 21st-century way. 

We are built to be able to "fill in" disconnected elements in the text of a song by imagining their connection.  If the song is logical enough to form a logical picture in our own mind, then it is logical enough for us (but it might not be for the person standing next to us - some are more literal than others about words). 

Right now, I'm reading classics of theology.  I read Augustine  Then Luther.  Then Calvin's Institutes  Then Wesley's sermon bashing predestination.  Each one persuades me as I read, "yes, it it so!"  And yet when the next one questions the first one I read, I say, "ah!  why didn't I think of that?  Now, this is more logical, or more true." 

When I was bothered by the structure of Jesus' sermons, the pastor told me He was a rabbi, and rabbis taught like a "string of pearls", relating their points end-to-end, as opposed to today's paragraph method, where everything serves a main point, and you preach three points with one overarching big point (how does the end of the Sermon on the Mount reinforce the beginning?  Answer this in twenty-five books or less.  You have fifty minutes to complete your answer). 

Our hunger for logic and sense, as human beings, is generally satisfied if something makes sense during the time we are exposed to a song, a sermon, or a paragraph of writing.

I must be one of the ones who has drunk the poison - I don't find any problem with "sing with me" in that song. Changes of perspective from 3rd person to 2nd person just seem to be natural, as if I'm a wandering minstrel or something.

I immediately think of the wonderful praise song "How Great Is Our God", which has that "sing with me" thing, which the leader must have inserted to get people to sing on the chorus, but it ended getting recorded and stuck in there forever. It's barely part of the song at all -- do you do it just once, or every time, or what? (I just sing it every time, because somehow without it the melody line feels blank). Such a song has "redeeming lyrical value" owing to its many fine features overwhelming this little non-logical glitch.

That little addition works, and it even works in Hebrew. (we sing it mixed)

Ki Gadol Elohai

[shiru] Ki Gadol Elohai

And I think it works because melodically it seems to be lacking without it; and that is why it probably got added in to begin with.  And besides that, the general focus of the song is not telling God how great He is directly, it is telling each other how great He is.

I do have to agree with the OP (from looking at the w/c sheet) that the change of direction does seem quite abrupt.

I don't really find much problem with the "sing with me"... most of the song is sung about God..... logically, I suppose you might be telling someone about God and then asking them to sing about him too.  The real contradiction comes in that often the song is sung, eyes closed, hands raised, as though they are singing to God... 

Probably this isn't the only song like that!

"If the song is logical enough to form a logical picture in our own mind, then it is logical enough for us (but it might not be for the person standing next to us - some are more literal than others about words). "

I think this might have been the sort of point my friend was trying to make - her idea was that whatever collection of phrases were in the song might evoke a certain set of thoughts, or ideas in the people singing it, and in some ways that set of thoughts is more important that the internal logic of the words themselves.

I was trying to convince her that a good song should be logical and produce a good set of thoughts and ideas...

I was trying to convince her that a good song should be logical and produce a good set of thoughts and ideas...

 

I think this statement is more the battleground than the song that was mentioned. Being reasonable and logical are important aspects of our faith anyhow. I would also like songs about our faith and the one we place our faith in to be reflective of that.

 

So I'm not sure the song you mentioned bothered me as much as some of the concepts in people's minds these days with respect to things about our faith. There's a massive amount of relativism being expressed lately. And whatever your position on various theological issues, we don't worship a God who says, "well, Jesus was OK for x, y and z society, but I'll let this society or that one into heaven anyhow because they had good pictures in their minds..."

 

I don't know, it's certainly a thought worth thinking.

OK, I think what she actually said was something along the lines of "if the song helps people to meet with God, then that is a good thing, and it might not matter so much if it makes sense".

But, yes, there are lots of warnings in the Bible about empty worship that is not backed up with the way we actually live....

I have heard too many times the strange theology that singing "about God" is not "singing to God", and that a person is not capable of using the mind or rational faculties while relating directly to God.  It's as if we are all supposed to be Teresa of Avila, or we are not worshiping God.

In the matter of eyes closed, hands raised, it's a way of cloistering ourselves (visually) and directing our bodiy heaven-ward.  And I think that often this is a very good thing to do; but it really does not define singing "to God", it only "looks like it."

Thinking about rationality and worship:

The law was (and is) a very rational set of standards for behavior and relationship to God.  Jesus came and proceeded not to destroy the law but fulfill it.  His way seemed illogical (how can you have a sabbath and a corn-shuckin' at the same time?), but he showed (logically, with historical background) that His way transcended man's picture of logical standards.  Passionate art that has a logical substrate will direct both the passion and the Word into the mind, where it is remembered.  And what we proclaimed so boldly today we might want to remember tomorrow.

The hands-raised thing during that song (How great is our God) doesn't really bother me that much, if at all - I guess my point was that it is more of a logical inconsistency than the "Sing with me" bit....

When singing Worship or Praise songs I defiantly believe the song has to make sense.  If you have a new person reaching for God the words help them to think about how they can approach the Lord.  For a seasoned saint the words can bring them into focus.  Help people to forget life for a moment and focus on Jesus. IE .. Heart of Worship

When the music fades
And all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

Songs we sing are presenting a thought, request or statement to King Jesus.  Think about it, if we were to address Queen Elisabeth would it make sense to speak nonsense or speak correctly? But we are not just singing to an Earthly King. We are singing to the Almighty God!  We need to do our best and to give our best.  I know that there are songs that are just plain fun to sing but the words are not so proper. But in a Church I think the content of the songs we sing are very important and totally need to make sense. : )

 

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