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?
You can only sing a song like "When the music fades" so many times before you have to get up from the soft singer's chair and live out what it says. I suppose that's true of any song; but repentance-oriented songs virtually demand action way more than repetition.
I think this subject has come up before in this thread, but I'll single it out:
- Should a song's imagery generally match biblical imagery? In other words, to what extent should we bring in new and fresh imagery?
Example: Crowder - How He Loves "he's like a hurricane and I'm like a tree".
There is nothing really wrong with the image here, but it always bothered me for congregational singing. I'm not sure why or if I should just let it go. Is my problem based in accurate truth? Does this image somehow violate some level of theological truth, or confirm one? Heck, I don't know.
All I can think of is a loose connection to Acts 2, the mighty wind (sometimes described as a hurricane, mostly by its sound) and the analogy in John 3:16. In any event, Crowder is depicting a love that is overwhelming, not one that uproots or destroys the tree. Any many other connections to wind / Holy Spirit.
I guess that's my problem with it. It's David Crowder's image of God's love in his life. that's OK, but what does scripture say about it? The word "overwhelming" doesn't come to mind. I don't know what to do with stuff like this. Many people seem to like it.
And that one's just an example to illustrate a struggle I have with "extra biblical imagery". (Maybe Tom Hanks will do a movie along those lines.)
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
(anonymous, tr. Paul Gerhardt, 1656).
The Anonymous Guy couldn't find Latin words to fully express how he felt about Jesus, so he said so in so many words (but "O Sacred Head" itself is full of Scriptural images, both OT and NT). The language in this hymn indicates a certain overwhelmment. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God!" [exclamation point mine and maybe a few translations].
Let the trees of the field clap their hands (Psalm in 140's) -- maybe there's your hurricane.
I don't know, either -- this subject is bugging me -- I took out a bunch of songs I consider the best, and a hymnal, and all I find, even when I didn't notice it before, was "in-biblical imagery", often only a few phrases that don't find a Bible source somewhere. Even ballads such as "Watch the Lamb", with all of their imaginative interpolation of a story, don't invent images radically outside of those found in the Bible. Yet we still serve a Lord who let his disciples make granola on the sabbath-day, going outside the letter of the law simply because they were hungry; and it was the critics he took to task. I can't ignore that aspect of God, either.
Should a song's imagery generally match biblical imagery? In other words, to what extent should we bring in new and fresh imagery?
It's a good question. Certainly, songwriters over the years do not seem to have often split from biblical imagery, so we end up with lambs, temple rooms, clouds, water, flames, kings, various agricultural metaphors, primitive weaponry, etc., very few of which have really strong resonances for us in our moderm life, and so which do not speak to us in quite the same way as they would have for the first hearers.
My feeling? Jesus used everyday imagery (i.e. everyday for the people of his day) in order to communicate deep truths. Paul freely threw metaphors around with little regard as to how well they mixed (1 Thessalonians 5 is my favourite set). I think we are free to use metaphors that speak to those around us.
The real difficulty is finding an appropriate metaphor that will (i) be understood, and (ii) actually communicate the truth. Which is why I think we all play it safe in our song-writing and stick to lambs, temple rooms and the rest.
Remember when Benny Hinn tried to update the weaponry with "Holy Spirit machine-gun"?
I remember the machine-gun, didn't realize it was Hinn. But of course Benny Hinn is a complete fraud and false prophet, so no surprises!
There were also dragons and bosoms in the hymns. I resonate with everything you said here - and if we only stick to angels and lambs and temple rooms, we will continue in the doldrums.
But I'm still not crazy about "hurricane/tree" in Crowder's song. Maybe my discomfort isn't about it not matching scriptural images so much as creating new concepts in theology that I don't see in scripture. So new images are fine if they convey an existing scriptural concept? What's wrong with the hurricane? Maybe I don't like that he wrote a successful song and I didn't. Maybe I think the image is somewhat conflicting - not quite conveying what it should be. Or maybe it's just wrong.
I'm not sure actually, this is why we're discussing it.
Poetic images may reinforce or allude to Scriptural pictures without duplicating them. For instance, there is no "river of God" named as such in Scripture; but Ps 46 has a "river...which makes glad"; we have "streams of living water", we have the river issuing from the temple in Ezekiel and cleansing the Dead Sea. I can sing Down the mountain the river flows / and it brings refreshing wherever it goes...
Then others bother me. Heaven is God's throne, earth His footstool. Says so right there in the Sermon on the Mount. But I can hardly get myself to sing "...while here on his footstool I roam" in a verse of "Constantly Abiding." I can't imagine footstool as being anything BIG, spacious like the earth. My mind recoils at the image.
benkmoser.com/blog/how-he-loves has a video of John Mark MacMillan telling of his experience writing "How He Loves" -- an affirmation of God's love for him, never-failing through the author's anger and deep sadness for the loss of a friend. He didn't address the hurricane image specifically, but the video gave perspective on the overall meaning of the song. MacMillan was essentially searching for stark, not-so-nicey images of God's love; the whole thing had hit him so hard he was weeping on the video seven years after the incident. As far as understanding the metaphor, I am no closer than before watching the author himself explain the song; perhaps some metaphors work on an emotional level but not necessarily a logical one, and us logical people are troubled by that.
I guess my problem with the hurricane image (just as a worn out example) is that it's neither accurate nor does it draw on any particular concept from scripture. Again, it's just an example. And while it might be how he felt at the time, I can't really relate. Most of my experience and of those around me is that God's love isn't like that - it's great but not overwhelming. So it makes a good radio song, but not necessarily one I want to perform with my congregation.
So I guess I'm saying that fresh imagery is fine, but I want it to relate back to a scriptural concept. Otherwise, we're back into the whole thing with Kierkegaard with the leap of faith and everything is very philosophical but not particularly scriptural.
FWIW, the "hurricane" song didn't grab me the first time I heard it (only about three months ago) but, having played it in worship a few times with the youth band, it began to grew on me. When it got used at Soul Survivor last week (big youth Bible week, with c. 10,000 people gathering to worship), it was among the songs that most engaged me.
Why do I like that particular image? I think it captures something about the dangerousness and power of God. Like a hurricane, he could rip my out by the roots. Though the earth should crumble and the mountains fall into the sea! (Ps 46... Biblical enough?) But wait - it is LOVE like a hurricane. God is not an impersonal force of destruction. If he tears me apart, it is because he knows that I need to be rebuilt; if he displaces me from all that is familiar and comfortable I can be confident that he has a purpose. Though he slay me, yet I will trust him! (Job 13:15).
I can't pin down any point in the Bible where God is described as a hurricane but he is reverently described as a consuming fire (Hb 12:29), an image of equal or greater destruction. That's resonant enough for me.