One of my professors at IWS, Dr. Lester Ruth of Duke Divinity School, has been doing an exhaustive study of the language used in hymns from the 18th and 19th century and the language used in contemporary worship songs of the last 20 years. He has catalogued every noun, verb, etc. He has a spreadsheet that keeps track of it all.
Yesterday he mentioned that in the hymns he has studied, there is a theme that pops up again and again. The Christian life is seen as a journey, and so the result is a response of patience.
There is a theme found in a majority of contemporary songs of the past 20 years, too. It's that we have access to God, and the result is a response of passion.
I found that interesting.
We live in a society that is about immediate gratification. We can have whatever we want, and we can have it now. A product that you can't find in a local store can be found online. Don't have the money for it? Use a credit card.
I imagine this flows into our theology, however subtly. We have immediate access to God at any moment through Christ (which is true). He is the Way. He is the door. The temple curtain is torn in two. There is no separation between us and God anymore.
And so we rejoice in the fact that we are with God, and He, Emmanuel, is with us. And we sing variations of that over and over again, in many different keys and to many different tunes.
But what happens when God doesn't immediately answer our prayers? What happens when we watch a friend slowly die of cancer, and no healing comes? How do we respond when we feel trapped in a job, or even in a marriage?
We can always draw from the Scriptures, but in the media-driven culture that we find ourselves in, song lyrics can lodge themselves in our sub-conscious, available for reflection and reminding. Do we have songs in our head that remind us to rest in God's presence? Do we remember that God is here, no matter what we might feel at the moment? That sanctification (the renewing of ourselves in Christ) is a process that takes us all the way to physical death? That even in the hardest of times, God is present, forming us and renewing us, making us more like Christ each day, even in small increments that are indiscernable?
I've often heard people say, "I couldn't sing that song on Sunday. It just wasn't true for me."
Maybe we shouldn't be singing/writing songs that are so subjective.
Maybe we should be singing/writing songs about the object of our faith, Who never changes. Those songs are always true.
And maybe we will find ourselves steadier when the rains pour down, because we know that we stand on the solid Rock.