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The Importance of Deep Thought May 21, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Random Musings.
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Joe,

On Saturday I made one of the longest posts in the history of the blog about my reflections on the song ‘Why?’ by Nichole Nordeman. In that post I said that there were a couple of more things I wanted to add, and so I’ll plan to do that in two more posts, this one and another later today or tomorrow. This post will probably only make sense if you have some familiarity with the words of the song, which can be read here.

My reflections the other day centered on some of the lyrics that appeared to us both to stretch the biblical portrait of Jesus as fully aware and freely choosing His suffering on the Cross. In the second verse of her song Nordeman paints a picture of Jesus as ignorant or at least forgetful of what He was doing on the Cross, and appears to stretch the meaning of the word ‘Why’ in the quotation, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

As I considered the lyrics to this song, I read the liner notes that come along with the CD. In it I read this from Nichole:

“The bulk of inspiration for this project is owed to a woman whom I have never met personally, but feel as though I know intimately on the pages of her work. Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle should be, in my opinion, required reading for anyone who has ever tried to navigate the murky waters where the worlds of faith and art still swim around together. Ms L’Engle has given me a gentle nudge to remember and reclaim the innocence, naivete, and mystery of my faith before it got lost in the land of adult reasoning. Somehow, it seems, in the midst of contemporary (and ridiculously complex) Christianity, I lost sight of the mystery of God…”

I was struck especially by the words about reclaiming the innocence and naivete of faith before it got lost in the land of adult reasoning. Such a statement concerns me, because I think it is based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.’ Whatever Jesus did mean when He said those words, I think it is clear from the rest of Scripture that He did not mean that in order to enter the Kingdom we should all be naive. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our minds. That would seem to suggest that the world of adult reasoning is not a thing to be suspect about, as Nordeman seems to think that it is.

Paul is even more explicit in calling Christians to think like adults, not children: “20Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). In praying for the Philippians Paul asks that their love would abound “more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). And several times in the book of Acts we see Paul going into synagogues and ‘reasoning’ with the Jews.

In Peter’s first letter he exhorts his readers, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). And he closes his second letter with the exhortation to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Even in the Old Testament, a frequent refrain was, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).

Maybe I am stretching Nordeman’s words beyond what she intended to communicate, but at face value Nordeman expresses an attitude which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the Church, and it is an attitude which has little biblical support: to stop thinking so much about complex matters and just have the simple naivete of a child. How can we walk down that road in the light of verses like those quoted above?

What does all this have to do with Nordeman’s song? Because I do not have the liberty of having a discussion with her, I can only speculate on her song lyrics and her liner notes. But here’s at least a possibility: when your attitude toward God and the Bible is that simple naivete is a virtue to be pursued and ‘adult reasoning’ is a hindrance to deep faith that should be minimized, it causes you to be a bit more lackadaisical in the way you handle the Word of God. You tend to focus on the emotions so much that having those emotions ignited by careful thought about God becomes less important. And it may well cause you to take a word in Scripture, like ‘Why?’ and add meaning to it that is not really there.

As we both mentioned the other day, Nordeman is to be commended for her use of imagination. But it is desperately vital that the imagination be biblically informed. In my opinion, that will not happen as long as we remain suspect of adult reasoning. To decide that a rigorous use of the mind in grappling with texts of Scripture is an impediment to faith rather than an enhancement, seems to me to be a sure pathway toward liberal theology. When imagination or ‘what this means to me’ becomes more meaningful than the intent of the biblical writers, we are in dangerous territory. I am not saying that this is Nordeman’s attitude toward Scripture, but it appears to me that the lack of interest in mature thinking hinders the content of ‘Why?’.

I welcome critical feedback here. The category of this post is ‘Random Musings’ for a reason: I am musing out loud, and freely acknowledge that my own reasoning still has flaws and blind spots. Perhaps I am making something out of nothing. But I know that when I read sentences from influential Christian ‘celebrities’ about being childlike and belittling adult reasoning, a big part of my soul cringes.

I’d be interested to know what others think about all this,

Larry

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Comments»

1. Jim W - May 24, 2007

My thoughts begin where I often start when critically evaluating a Christian song — these song-writers are artists first and foremost, not theologians. I believe we should approach these songs for what they are intended to be, and they are not, in my opinion, intended to be deeply theological. I’m not making excuses here; follow this thought.

Most Christian songs are not theological treatises. They do not stand up real well to intense scrutiny when they are most “artistic,” i.e., imagination and feeling-oriented. They are like a painting: when you stand too close to it, all you see are random brush-strokes — really not all that impressive or beautiful. (think Monet, for instance.) But when you step back and take in the effect, it portrays something that is evocative — that makes you feel and experience something that you may not have otherwise experienced. Many people have had that reaction to this song. Artists are people who minister to us exactly because they feel life and emotions more deeply than the rest of us non-artists. They are called to stir in us these emotions. And, tragically, these deep emotions are often their undoing. But, I digress here….

The song “why”, it should not be forgotten, is penned from the viewpoint of a young girl. I’m guessing here that she’s, oh, maybe eight or ten years old. That is the key point of the song — it’s viewpoint. That’s what makes it so emotionally powerful. It’s the perspective of a child. Jesus’ words that you examined are the words that were “heard” by the little girl. Now, we all know how kids hear things differently than we do. In addition, to build the songs symmetry, Jesus’ words reflect a lot of the little girl’s thoughts and observations in the first chorus. Artistically, I believe that’s what Nichole is trying to do here — portray the child’s imperfect and immature grasp on the horror she sees. I do believe that Nordemann is also trying to show the collision of Jesus’ divinity with His humanity. How do we comprehend how the musings of Jesus’ human brain that is wracked with pain and dehydration would meld with what He knew in His Holy Divine Heart and Mind was the purpose of the Father? I don’t know, but I think it’s artistically interesting to ponder. Do Jesus words square exactly with what we know from Scripture that He knew of His earthly purpose? No. But Nordemann poses this song from a kids perspective.
So, all that to say, yes, my brother, I do think that you are reading too much into Nordemann’s words. I think a song like this — an artistic take on a child’s view of the atoning crucifixion — is too easy a target for a theologian to dissect and criticize. If we were discussing a hymn or song designed for congregations, obviously I’d feel much differently. But that’s not the case here.

I commend you for sleuthing out that information on Madeline L’Engle and her theological scariness. Now, THAT, to me, is a more concerning thing about Nordemann, if that is indeed a major influence for her. (Is this the same author of the kids books?)
I certainly agree as well with your points about using our minds maturely, not as children.

Let’s pursue Scripture with the maturity of an adult and the faith of a child!

2. larrylaz - May 24, 2007

Jim W,

I love it brother! Thanks for stretching my thinking. I think that you and I should start a blog together and that would be quite a discussion; Joe and I agree on too much!

As you may expect, I have a couple of things to say in response to your wise words. But for now I’ll just say that the Madeleine L’Engle is the author of many children’s books.

I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on your comment for a post that I’ll plan to write up tomorrow.

Thanks again, brother,

Larry


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