Worship Wednesday: “Our God” by Chris Tomlin

Today continues our trip down the CCLI Top 100 at #2: “Our God,” written by Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Jonas Myrin, and Matt Redman, though Tomlin is most well-known for actually performing it.  The following lyrics are acquired from MetroLyrics and posted here under the auspices of Fair Use.  I’ve compacted them down so as not to repeat lines.

Water, You turned into wine
Opened the eyes of the blind
There’s no one like You
None like You

Into the darkness, You shine
Out of the ashes we rise
There’s no one like You
None like You

[Chorus]
Our God is greater
Our God is stronger
God, You are higher than any other
Our God is healer
Awesome in power
Our God, our God

Into the darkness, You shine
Out of the ashes, we rise
There’s no one like You
None like You

[chorus 2x]

[Bridge 2x]
And if our God is for us
Then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us
Then what could stand against

[some more bridges and choruses]

Positive aspects

Verse 1 make good mention of the miracles of Christ and even correctly states their intended purpose, not merely because Jesus likes blind people but because Jesus showed himself to be completely unique and set apart from the rest of us.  The first line of verse 2 likely makes reference to John 1:5, which identifies the Word as the light which shines into the darkness, the latter of which cannot overcome the former.

Now don’t take the next portion for granted.  John 1:1 identifies this Word, Jesus, as God himself.  And so the song correctly identifies this person who turned water into wine, open the eyes of the blind, and is the light which shines into the darkness, as our God.  Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is greater, stronger, and higher than any other, healer, and awesome in power.  This aspect is very much commendable on the authors’ part.

Negative aspects

Phoenix (mythology)
Friedrich Justin Bertuch, Bilderbuch für Kinder, 1790-1830 (Eigenbesitz), Fabelwesen.

“Out of the ashes we rise” may cause concern.  This one required some digging and rewriting.  The bible makes no mention of rising out of ashes in such a sense, but both Tertullian and Clement of Rome make mention of the Phoenix (a mythological bird — not to be confused with the city in Acts 27:12) in their writings to refer to the resurrection.

phoenix (Gk. φοῖνιξ), a gorgeously arrayed mythical bird which was the subject of several legends in antiquity, notably one to the effect that after living 500–600 years it burnt itself to ashes and then came back to life again with renewed youth. From St *Clement of Rome (I Clem. 25) and *Tertullian (De Res. Carnis, 13) onwards, Christian writers frequently regarded it as an image of the Resurrection. A poem on the religious significance of the phoenix, De Ave Phoenice, is prob. the work of *Lactantius; it enjoyed wide popularity and in its turn influenced the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Phoenix, contained in the *Exeter Book and at one time attributed to *Cynewulf. In Christian art the phoenix was occasionally used from *Constantinian times, representations of it being found, e.g., in the Roman churches of Sts *Cosmas and Damian, St Praxedes and St Cecilia, as well as on a variety of funerary monuments.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1291–1292.

How many congregants will know that and think of resurrection at this line?  I honestly don’t know.  “Ashes” threw me for a loop.  It took some research effort to figure it out.  If we stick to the principle that our worship songs should stick to biblical imagery (insert “sloppy wet kiss” screed here), maybe this wasn’t the best line to use.  “Up from the dead we will rise” could have been used.  Per copyright law, however, you as a worship leader are not authorized to make this lyrical replacement.

Second in the negative category is the bridge.  Surely it’s a reference to Romans 8:31, but I fear that its lack of contextualization in the song can cause a congregation to add a word-faith tinge to it.  That first if in verse 31 is a big if that we have to answer from the context of Romans 8, and this song doesn’t really put it there.  Can a worship leader redeem this and still use it?  I believe it’s possible, but care must be taken.

Integration

As for the contextualization of Romans 8:31 and the bridge, I think one solution is simply to recite (and possibly explain) the scriptural context prior to singing the song.  The short here is that the context is justification.  Not your business.  Not your football game.  Not your wallet.  Not your health.

Take a gander at an image search for “Romans 8:31.”  How many viewers of these artsy images look at these and have justification come to mind?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself at a word-faith church.  (AAAUUUGGGH!!!  Yeah, hold on for a few seconds.)  Suppose you’ve never heard this song before.  You don’t know who wrote it.  The bridge plays.  “And if our God is for us, then who can be against us…”  What are you immediately thinking in terms of the context?  Nothing can be against us…in terms of what?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:28–39 ESV

Our minds are prone to conclude the opposite of what the text is teaching.  God’s elect certainly can and do face tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword.  But our God who justifies is higher than all these things, sovereign over all these things.  In this, we are more than conquerors over all these things through him who loved us.

Is this enough mention of the gospel for an order of worship?  If contextualized as suggested above, then perhaps, but there’s also no law.  An order of worship should include why we need the gospel in the first place.  No law makes the gospel needless.  Cheap law makes cheap gospel.

Bottom line: Should I include this song?

You can, but only if you can find a way to integrate the song properly, making mention of the context of justification in Romans 8:31 and to include the need for the gospel (i.e. sin and law), this song is usable.  However, many churches’ orders of service do not provide time for that contextualization.  If the needed steps are too “out of step” for a particular church, then the worship leader should avoid overexertion and pursue other options.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s