The Unintentional Idolatry of “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”


flickr-sculpture-worship-kiss

I like to think I listen to really good music–and I do. My most recent listens have been Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell, Mozart’s Requiem, Miles Davis’ A Kind of Blue, Fugees’ The Score, and Taylor Swift’s 1989. But I also have a secret, closeted (until now) habit of listening to Christian Praise music on my own.

One of my favorite more recent songs is called “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by the Australian artist Matt Redman (video below). We sing it at my church, and I listen to it on my own. It’s one of the better contemporary worship songs out there, but there is a grave grammatical error in the song that, for at least me, colors my experience of this song in a distracting way. Here’s the chorus of the song:

Bless the Lord oh my soul, Oh my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before, Oh my soul
I’ll worship your holy name

Do you see it? Yes, there is an odd tense change from present imperative verbs to a future verb in the last line, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Rather, it’s that the first three lines are speaking to one’s soul about God, and then it says “I’ll worship your holy name”. Who is being spoken to? Throughout the chorus, the singer is speaking to their own soul, telling their soul to worship God, and then it jumps to second person.

I know, I know, the song’s intention is to turn to worshipping God, but grammatically, it is offering this worship to one’s own soul. And I think this matters for several reasons.

Spiritually, the words we use matter. If we’re honest, most people are not actively listening to the songs they sing in church or paying attention to the words and their meaning. And I think this is okay! But the things we do, sing, pray, etc. shape us in deep, subtle ways–especially when we do those things on autopilot. So frenetic, inconsistent, non-cohesive expressions of faith and worship lend themselves to sentimentality, and sporadic offerings of platitudes. The verbal content of our worship, to be healthy, ought to be whole, logical, and progressive from sensible premises to coherent expressions.

BIblically, the song is based on Psalm 103. This entire Psalm never speaks to God. It is a proclamation about God. To change this in the chorus breaks the scriptural continuity and unroots these words from the “family tradition” of our faith, and for the sake of what?

Communally, the beautiful thing about the Psalm and the chorus, is that it is an expression of the people of God, to the people of God, and for the people of God. It is God’s family encouraging one another in their life together. By throwing in a random address directly to God, it breaks this theme. The people of God are speaking to their own souls and encouraging one another to go out and offer such praise. That’s good. That’s beautiful. There’s nothing wrong about having a chorus (or entire song) that never actually addresses God, but speaks to one another about God’s worthiness of praise.

Aesthetically, just as a matter of excellence, this is sloppy and shows a carelessness in one’s words. It makes it appear that worship songwriters feel the right to throw in any random platitude and get away with it. Maybe if we held them to a higher standard, we’d get better, more cohesive, theologically rich, and well-formed songs for our day and age.

So yeah, I know: it’s one line in one song. But it’s a good example of what can make contemporary worship songs potentially unhelpful to the ongoing formation of our souls and communities as the worshipping people of God.

The next time you’re singing this, then, how about you just–quietly to yourself–change the last line to “I’ll [or perhaps even ‘we’ll’?] worship his holy name.”

What do you think? Do you think this is worth bringing attention to?

[image credit: photo by Petra on flickr]

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3 thoughts on “The Unintentional Idolatry of “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”

  1. Honestly, I never have any problem of this song, even after reading this article. In fact, this article reflects a shallow understanding of the Hebrew psalms, which the song emulates. Changing of the the personal pronouns in the psalms are frequently, but no reader ever got confused with whom the subject or object the line was about. Same goes with this song, 10,000 Reasons. I’m saying that the song probably emulates the Hebrew psalms because those were the shared heritage of Christians worldwide, including the writer of the song. Outside the Christian literature, many secular poems and novels also switch between the personal pronouns in different lines or chapters, without causing any confusion to the readers. In fact, sometimes, we need this beauty of seamless transitions between the main characters or time and space to create a new experience of worship or expression. I believe this song has it well.

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    • Sorry, Paul, I agree with Florence. I think it’s just poetic license and I don’t think anyone singing it is confused by the switch. I don’t think the intended meaning is lost on anyone singing it. Especially in the context of contemporary worship music, where singers regularly switch between singing about themselves/to themselves/to each other to singing to God.

      Liked by 1 person

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