Enough Songs About JesusBecoming the Great Us, Columns — By David Zimmerman on August 17, 2012 at 5:33 am
Don’t get me wrong. I love Jesus. Singing about Jesus is fine. I’m just not sure we can crank out good songs about Jesus as quickly as we think we can.
I should mention that (a) I’ve written a fair number of songs about Jesus myself and (b) none of them was particularly good. It may, in fact, be something of a rite of passage for bookish and musically inclined evangelicals in their twenties (especially newly minted evangelicals) to write a song or two about the Second Person of the Trinity. But rites of passage are generally most meaningful for the people going through them; for everyone else, they can be a bit much.
I started asking myself whether we have too many songs about Jesus when I heard one, then two, then three sermons about passages in the Old Testament that we’re buttressed on either side with songs about Jesus. Why, I wondered, would we sing about Jesus after I’ve just spent the last forty-five minutes listening to somebody talk about Noah? Or Father Abraham? Or his many sons?
The reason we would sing about Jesus at such a moment is, I think, because we think too little of the balance of the Scriptures, where Jesus is not in view. The Bible presents an epic, as yet unfinished, in which Jesus provides the climax and we occupy the dénouement. Once upon a long time ago, the universe sprang into being. Some time later, the covenant people of God were established. A couple of millennia later, Jesus was born. Thirty-some years later, he died for our sins. A couple of millennia later, here we are. I’m not saying Jesus’ story isn’t important—I love Jesus, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot more material there to sing about, and it’s also important to who we are and what we’re becoming.
It’s important to know that God made a covenant promise to never again destroy the earth by flood. It’s important to remember that, to celebrate it, to pass it along to our children, to sing it to one another and to ourselves. It’s important to remember that God heard the weeping of Hagar the handmaid and saved her life and the life of her child; that God heard the weeping of Hannah and granted her wish for a child; that God heard the cries of an enslaved people and led them into the desert to their freedom. It’s also important that God spoke, even sang, angry words to his covenant people as they broke covenant with him, that God’s mercy manifests itself in sometimes painful truth-telling, that not all Christian living is victorious. We learn these things best, perhaps, by singing them, together when we’re together and alone when we’re apart.
We don’t learn these things when we’re preoccupied with Jesus—which is not to say that there’s no value in singing about Jesus. There are things it’s important to know, to remember, to pass on about Jesus as well. But it is possible to focus on the climax and lose sight of the whole epic, and
so to fail the dénouement—where harmony is meant to be restored, where all minor chords are meant to transpose into major, where all dissonance is meant to become consonant. When we are preoccupied with Jesus, to the neglect of the epic and our part in it, we forget the world that Jesus sent us out into, the world that God so loved that he gave his only son.
So, maybe for now, enough songs about Jesus. I’m not saying never sing about Jesus again—I love Jesus, after all—but maybe just give it a rest every once in a while. Turn your eyes upon something else in the great epic of God’s work in the world. Strike a chord and see what happens. Maybe we’ll find our songs about Jesus becoming fuller, richer, more worth singing.