I suffer from a condition which I’m sure is not at all unique. I don’t have a name for it, but its effect is to make me allergic to certain hymns and worship songs because of the associations they have for me. Some of those associations are entirely random and personal. Example: I can never sing ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’, with its rousing last line in each verse, ‘One Church, one Faith, one Lord’, without it being clouded by the Nazi slogan ‘Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Führer!’
Others are associations with current trends in the Church or world events which I think are entirely legitimate: we should be concerned if our worship songs give a slanted view of God. There’s a trend, especially in Evangelical worship today, to be almost exclusively Jesus-centred. “It’s all about you, all about you, Jesus,” says Matt Redman’s ‘The Heart of Worship’. Sometimes it’s hard to find a single song in a service that’s addressed to God the Trinity, or to the Father. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the Jesus Plan, what with him talking so much about knowing the Father, making the Father known, glorifying the Father.
The other thing I’ve developed an allergy to, is too much emphasis on the greatness of God. After all those videos of Islamist fighters firing off rockets, or suicide bombers blowing themselves up, with shouts of “Allahu akbar!” I’m not interested in some inter-faith contest of “My God’s bigger than your God!” Islam places such an emphasis on the singularity and greatness of God, that it can’t accept the idea of Him (sic) having a Son – or even of the Messiah Jesus actually dying on the cross1. But for me the glory of the Christian faith, is that it tells us about a God who didn’t need to cling on to that greatness, but gave it up, and became little for us. Shared our insignificance in the face of the immeasurable Universe. Became small as a human foetus, as a baby, a child, a refugee, a man living under foreign tyranny, a falsely condemned victim crushed by the military machine. That small.
Charles Wesley, as so often, has it right when he has us sing:
Our God, contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man. (Charles Wesley)
A lot of our more recent hymn writers would benefit from a little immersion in the theology of Wesley’s hymns.
- They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them. (Sura 4.157) ↩