Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise, How Great Thou Art, God of Our Fathers, Praise Him, Praise Him, O Worship the King

Paul and Jan Crouch, hosts of Trinity Broadcasting Network's Praise the Lord

I will begin by reiterating, as I have stated in previous posts, that I am a practicing if cafeteria-style Catholic.  I have a belief in a higher power, though despite what the Bible may say, I don't really know if God is male, female, or something else entirely. It's my belief that the Bible is very much a product of the times in which its  books were composed, and much of what is contained is heavily influenced by the mores of the times in which the various books of the Bible came into existence.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I know enough to realize that  in today's world, or at least the western part of the world,  if we tried to live our lives according to the way things were done in  Old Testament times, we'd find ourselves locked up either in a maximum security loony bin or a prison. You just don't go around as a group throwing stones at people. You don't force  your daughter to marry the man who raped her. You don't burn your house down because it has mold in it, and you tried cleaning the mold once, but it came back.  Some parts of the mideast are not too far removed from this lifestyle. The recent case of the woman visiting Dubai who reported a rape and was herself arrested for unlawful sex comes to mind.

This is not to say that the Old Testament is a worthless document. It contains cherished literature and literary allusions.  It's a tremendously valuable history, if not strictly literal, and it does introduce The Ten Commandments, which are exceptional guidelines by which to live one's life. The Jewish communities, with their varying degrees of adherence,   have made the Old Testament and other scriptures work for them in such ways as to live lives that, while I wouldn't choose some of them for myself, do not cause the people who do to present themselves as lunatics. By and large, though, I take the Old Testament with a grain of salt.

I'm more of a New Testament person, although I take that with a measurable amount of salt as well. Much of it -- including the words of Jesus himself -- was written long after the fact. And the words of Jesus are a relatively small part of the New Testament as a whole.  Paul got a great deal of print in the New Testament. Paul,while deemed worthy by Jesus to have been an apostle, was never proclaimed by Jesus to be his personal spokesman, and Paul was not a man without his personal biases.

Peter -- the man whom Jesus said would be the rock, the cornerstone  on which the Church was built, and considered to have been the first pope -- once pulled out his sword and chopped a man's ear off before Jesus used his power to replace the man's ear and to scold Peter by saying, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."  Seriously, in today's world, would the cardinals consider electing  as pope a man who had ever chopped off another man's ear?  Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear in a boxing match, and people in general then wrote Mike Tyson off as not quite playing a full 88-key piano, and that was just for biting a man's ear, as opposed to removing it in its entirety with a sword. I don't know exactly what goes on in that cardinals' enclave with the black and white smoke where the popes are elected, but I'm reasonably certain that having chopped off anyone's ear would essentially exempt anyone from ever reaching even the level of cardinal, much less from being elected pope.

I've digressed excessively before getting to my main point, which is to ask a question. How much does God want us to praise Him verbally?  A grateful heart is an important thing. We should all have gratitude in our hearts to the giver for the things we have been given. In a sense, everything we hve, from my own personal viewpoint, comes at least indirectly from God.

While my parents gave me the car I own, God gave them, at least through the gift of favorable DNA, the intelligence to have jobs that allowed them to earn money  and a work ethic they learned either from their own parents or by osmosis. So I have reason to be thankful  to God for the car that I was given with no strngs attached. I thanked God at the time for the car, and from time to time, when I see others on foot walking what appear to be considerable distances, I am reminded again to thank God for my car and for many other blessings I receive on a regular basis. (As much as I would like to share my blessings by offering rides to some of these people, in today's world it is not prudent to invite a stranger into one's car.)

Being thankful to God for my car did or does  not exempt me in any way from being thankful to my parents for giving me the car. I expressed my appreciation to them enthusiastically and sincerely  at the time the car was given, and I have thanked them for it more than once since the time it as given to me.  It is right and proper for me to have done so and to continue to do so. Yet can there be too much of a good thing? Do my parents want to hear me say thanks for the car every hour on the hour for all of my waking hours when I am at home? Do they want to hear it three times a day, or even once daily?  My parents bought a car for my brother as well. Do they want to hear his expressions of gratitude  hourly, or three times each day, or even once each day? My guess is that, while gratitude is a righteous attitude, when expressing it verbally, enough eventually becomes enough. My parents would eventually grow weary of hearing my expressions of thanks and politely ask me to shut up.

I contend that the same is true in praising God.  If God can know what's in our hearts, do we really need to praise aloud quite as much as some among us, including televangelists and ordinary citizens, sometime feel necessary?  Are Paul and Jan Crouch (hosts of the TV show Praise the Lord) and their ilk onto something, or are their words eventually something of a redundancy?

Extending this a bit further, in first Thessalonians, my favorite apostle [ ironic font]  Paul said "Pray without ceasing," What is meant by that?  Surely Paul didn't mean that if you're on the witness stand and an attorney asks you a question about what you observed, neither God nor the apostle Paul thinks (only God knows what Paul Crouch thinks) that you should tell the attorney and the judge, "Sorry; I pray unceasingly, so I can't pause to answer any of your wordly questions."  I would conclude that, rather, one should strive to have a prayerful mindset at all times and that one's first thought should be to be thankful or to ask God for guidance, but not neccessarily out loud  and constantly, and certainly not at the expense of doing something such as, hypothetically, caring for one's children.

Many hymnals are filled with songs of praise to God. I would never suggest that the writing of these hymns was a redundancy. Each was presumably an expression of deep feeling by its author.  Nor would I suggest that these songs not be sung, just as I would not suggest that the words "Praise God" or anything similar be erased from our language.

What I would suggest, by contrast, are that there are also hymns written about trying to be a better person or about helping other people. These songs probably should be sung at least as often as the hymns we sing in direct expression of how great our God is. God surely must already know that God is great. While we should continually be mindful of this and appreciative of the many blessings most of us receive on a regular basis,  instead of telling God, others, and ourselves, how great God  is, perhaps we should find a way to express our feelings by our actions, as actions speak much more loudly than words.  Others are not so blessed as some of us are.  I believe it was Jesus who said, "If you love me, feed my sheep."


  1. The song I've had in my head lately is What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Apparently I have some sins and griefs to share. It amazes me, though, how many people sing the songs without paying attention to the words.

  2. Hi Linda,

    I'm Catholic, and that one isn't in our hymnal (the Mormons, with whom I'm familially associated though I'm not have I ever been a Mormon have different words for the same hymn tune) but we have many hymnals aroundmthe house because my mom and I play for funerals. Actually my mom has essentially retired from the practice unless it's someone close to us, but I'm still in the business. I looked up "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I think my favorite line from the song is from verse #2"Can we find a friend so faithful who can all our sorrows bear?"

    My mom's best friend plays for a Protestant congregation. She says that's often one of the first songs requested on the Sundays when congregants are allowed to select hymns to be sung.

    I agree that we dont pay enough attention to the words of the hymns. When I play for a congregation, whether or not the high sopranos like it, I transpose hymns, if they're too high, into keys that are singable to the average person. It's easier to focus on the words if you're not worried about whether or not you will be able to hit the high note.