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?
I'm fully admitting that I'm grasping on this one and merely sharing my thoughts...
There are many instances in modern Christian music that come across to me like this one. I know the hurricane imagery seems to work for a lot of people and it's pretty benign. But for whatever reason, I seem to have this personal idea of a "proper" or "good" christian song but don't ask me to lay it out clearly since I'm not sure where it comes from. As a result, I still feel like the hurricane image is falling short.
God's love isn't like that - in fact, the opposite. You can't ignore a hurricane. God's love can be ignored and often is. Hurricanes are destructive and never rebuilding, but God never tears his children down unless it's to rebuild - hurricanes aren't capable of this. His judgement may be like a hurricane, but not his love. Everywhere I can recall in scripture, His love is not described in a destructive or "overwhelming" context. It's always about mercy and tender lovingkindness and patience and longsuffering.
I'm not saying that people don't resonate with it or that it's wrong, I just don't feel there's much scriptural or experiential support. And as such, I'm looking for songs about which I can readily say, "this is very scriptural". (Fresh imagery or not.)
Maybe it's just me, truly.
Maybe just me, too.
When I sing How He Loves I don't really see a hurricane, but more like a row of slender young saplings bowing under a warm rain and strong breeze. I think I reconditioned my brain to read it that way so it would make sense.
The way we read things shifts in our own lives. Today my granddaughter came over and didn't want to play with the purple cookie monster puppet. The same puppet that gave her squeals of delight last week now scares her -- "No! It's scary. Don't put it on!" The same 2-year-old takes a gorilla and loves the thing to death, and operates the piano keys with its hands. Does that make sense?
But she did say something that made a lot of sense. My daughter was reading the story of the crucifixion from a child's picture Bible, and she looked at Jesus on the cross, and said, "I think he needs a hug." Wouldn't do very well for a song lyric, but it sure worked for me today.
Is God a gentleman who stands meekly at the door and waits for us to respond? That certainly wasn't the experience of Saul of Tarsus, humbled and blinded on the road to Damascus and completely turned around from his murderous intentions.
That said, I do think the song is definitely in the border country between congregational and more appropriate as a solo piece; the inventive use of imagery in the verses certainly needs the counterbalance of the chorus.
Aw darn, I'm writing another book, sorry for that. I'm sorry we had such a go at this particular subject, I hope it still feels like a friendly conversation as your and Greg's responses are excellent and thought provoking. I am happy hat it's stayed somewhat within the original subject matter.
Is God a gentleman who stands meekly at the door and waits for us to respond?
For must of us and most of the time, yes.
The event with Paul was certainly abrupt and atypical for the Lord and His dealings. But not only that, we're not just describing "here is how God acts sometimes", we're saying "He loves like a hurricane" with the implication that this is a common occurrence that we can expect to see often and see born out in scripture. Neither of which seem true.
Here's why: from what has been said so far, loving like a hurricane means that God loves a most of us destructively and builds back up, cannot be ignored, hits us hard and for extended periods of time, is loud such that everyone around any general vicinity is also experiencing this, bends and breaks us etc. etc. In short, I think it falls short of expressing the biblical ideal described in the Psalms, NT etc.
To be sure, he acts instantaneously at times and makes abrupt corrections, neither of which are like a hurricane since hurricanes are easily detected before they hit, come on slowly and build to great degrees, and stay that way for extended periods. So I would call it a careless simile.
I guess after all this discussion, to avoid beating a dead horse (which in itself is beating a dead horse), I would say that this has lead me to a "rule" about this subject in general:
- Everything we know about the God we worship is in scripture. If you find something out about Him that's true via experience, it's already somewhere in scripture.
- As worship leaders, we are pointing our congregations to the revealed God as we know Him. If the music is to be used in a congregational setting (or even advertised as godly), to the extent that there is anything to be taught in the song, it should point to something in there as accurately as possible. New ideas are ok if they are a new way of seeing an old truth. New ideas that depart from revealed truths are not ok for me. IE - "God is like a body of water, fluid and pliable" - would be inaccurate and not ok in my book. A proper comparison might be, "As far as the ends of space is His Love for us." (IE, infinite in most of our minds.)
- Non-biblical metaphors and similes are fine, but I still think their message should come from scripture. IE, comparing God to a Mack Truck could be fine if the point of comparison comes from the Bible. But keep in mind that any metaphor or figure of speech can be dangerous - biblical ones if they are interpreted incorrectly, extra-biblical ones if they are inaccurate points of comparison.
So.... the danger is that, in trying to reach for a new way of expressing some idea, the songwriter can either hit on something which isn't actually such a good metaphor at all, or come up with words that only half the congregation "gets".
I don't know the hurricane song, but I can see where Stevo is coming from on this - it's a challanging image, but doesn't sound quite right.
In fact, during the discussion which led to the original post, I had a similar problem with a song where God's love was described as "furious". Again, I can sort of see where the songwriter was coming from, but it didn't feel quite right to me. Other people seem to love it. What are we to do?
I think there is a risk with any imagery of failing to communicate a proper understanding of the subject. That risk is more obvious when drawing on extra-biblical vocabulary but still exists when sticking to biblical imagery. Deep ruts have been worn in the language but is the message really getting across?
Given that God's history with his people contains many unexpected twists and turns (Moses - come back from your self-imposed exile and lead my people out of Egypt. Hosea - marry that prostitute and persist in faithfulness to her), I think there is plenty of room for fresh language when grappling with timeless truths.
"Deep ruts"? Now that's some solid imagery!
And very accurate.
When was the last time you heard the word "prodigal" and thought "extravagant?" or "sin" and thought of an archer missing the target?
Those are some VERY deep ruts.
I didn't think about the archer until recently, in reading politics in the newspaper, I come across these congressmen and bigwigs saying "mistakes were made," and the really virtuous among them dare to put it in active voice, such as "I made an error in judgment." In other words, they sinned, in the most classical sense of the word (even while trying to shuffle the thing away).
As a child I thought badly of the term "child prodigy" because the only way I knew the term "prodigal" in any depth was in the Bible story. I quickly assumed child prodigies were brats and would ruin their successes with their superficiality and boasting. I didn't realize that my own jealousy was more prodigal than their achievements.
I can't say it was a high priority thought of mine, but still glad you feel it.
Last month I put in my oar about the odd feel of "sing with me" in "How Great Is Our God". But the last time we sang it, something happened inside of me. I saw the "sing with me" as believers encouraging each other, rather than a song leader merely pumping up the people, and the phrase became generous, helpful, good.
So I apologize for my didactic nonsense and hope that I have not caused any of you to devalue a very fine song.