Even Worship Songs Need Good Writing!

Question: Since our worship songs generally consist of more than “na-na-na-na,” doesn’t the meaning of a worship song matter?
Question: Since the meaning of a worship song evidently matters, shouldn’t we try to get it right?
But we don’t always get it right.  Consider these examples.
Natural and Legal Metaphors Mixed Up
My personal favorite is this line: “And like a flood his mercy reigns.”  Do we really want to proclaim the message that God’s mercy governs in the manner of a natural disaster?  (And if a flood governs like a king, I wonder what sort of weather events legislate like a parliament.)
Perhaps we could use on our overhead projectors on Sunday mornings the alternate spelling that actually makes a little sense: “And like a flood his mercy rains.”
They’re not the same thing.
(Pictures from Hobbes’ Leviathan and from Edal Anton Lefterov.)
Plain Old Bad Grammar

And then we have this one: “And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?”  Why don’t we give that preposition an object?  The Bible does (Romans 8:31): “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
I can’t see what good the bad grammar does in this situation, unless it creates the illusion of good poetry.  But this would only be an illusion.  Of course, poetry doesn’t always have to follow the rules of grammar.  But it takes more than bad grammar to make good poetry.
Adding “us” on the second repetition of the final line would not sabotage the meter: We already stretch “against” to occupy the space of about seven syllables, so we can afford give the space of one syllable to “us.”  Nor would adding “us” ruin a rhyme (if there is a word that rhymes with “against,” you won’t find it in this song).
Biblical Oddities
“Days of Elijah” is such a nice song, but often a painful one for me.  If David (instead of, say, Ezra) is “rebuilding a temple of praise,” I wonder when the first temple of praise was built.  I’ve heard this altered to “building a temple of praise”; I like that; I understand it.
For years I was annoyed by the line about “the days of Your servant, Moses, righteousness being restored.”  One Sunday morning last summer I realized that this actually makes sense as part of the biblical narrative: Some of the righteousness lost when Adam sins is restored in the Mosaic law, especially the Ten Commandments.
Still, I wonder how many people are actually thinking about two Bible characters and more than a thousand years of biblical history when they sing that bit; maybe we could just sing “And these are the days of your servant, Josiah, righteousness being restored.”

Et Cetera . . .
Some worship songs I’d do better not to mention are, it seems to me, much, much worse in theology, poetry, etc.
And hymns aren’t excluded.  I would need another blog post (or another dissertation) to analyze the unbiblical dualisms and Platonisms that appear in some hymns.
Giving Our Best to God
We should be giving our best to God.  If you’re like me and you don’t sing very well, then go ahead and sing; for you and me, maybe bad singing is the best we can do if it’s all we have.  But the Church has more than bad poetry, bad spelling, bad grammar, and bad theology to put in our worship songs.  We can do better.
In particular, these songs I’ve mentioned are nice songs!  I don’t want us to stop singing them.  But can we maybe sing them a little better?
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar