O Lord our Lord, Shining in the Starlight

So, I feel kind of weird posting something so very pink here, but whatever the argument requires, I guess:

Here we have a nice little Disney love song, very similar to every other Disney love song written in the last twenty years: girl and boy, connecting somehow, whole world is different, etc. etc.  However, this song is not as situation specific as, say, “Beauty and the Beast” or “Part of Your World”, leaving it open to application in a variety of circumstances.  After one of our many times listening to “I See the Light”, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, this could be a worship song!”  And, with a couple of pronoun changes, it definitely could.

Practically, it’s a simple guitar in an easy-to-sing key; structurally, it’s missing a bridge but has the requisite two verses and a chorus.  There’s the biblical imagery of Light versus both darkness and blindness, the obvious distinction between “what I was” and “what I am now”, and the vaguely mystical references to stars.  Most importantly, there’s the clear underlying subtext of romantic love so common (and often more blatant) in worship music today.  It seems as though every other song on a Sunday morning carries some variation of this theme: Jesus we do love you, Jesus we will love you, Jesus we’re going to do xyz to show we love you.  How many choruses are made up of nothing but the words “we”, “love”, “you”, and “us”?  “I See the Light” might even be too subtle.

Actually, though, it would be a very bad idea to use this song as part of a worship set.  Not only would it take those of us who know the song completely out of a worshipful attitude and start us thinking about Zachary Levi, it also perpetuates the distressing identification of God as our lover.  Yes, I realize such language is biblical.  However, it is also entirely corporate, about God and Israel or Jesus and the Church, rather than God or Jesus and me personally.  Hosea speaks of God’s deep love for Israel, not each individual Israelite; even Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins allows five of them to keep watch for the Bridegroom together.  To appropriate such language out of context is bad hermenutics and bad theology.

(As a side note, I don’t actually think it’s even appropriate for me individually to feel about the Creator and Saviour, who controls the wind and the waves and will return to unmake the world, as I will about the man I marry – much less so for a guy to feel that way about any other man!)

By this logic, one could arguably use “I See the Light” in a worship context by making all the “I”s into “We”s, but even so, something about it seems off kilter.  So, what to do instead?  Fortunately for us, God gave us 150 examples of what it means to worship him well, with hardly an “I love you” in sight.  Of these, I would categorize about 70 as being primarily celebratory, as opposed to, for example, prayers for deliverance or forgiveness.  The psalmists’ default in these songs is an action, rather than a feeling; praise, instead of love.  They extoll God as their rock, their shield, their protector.  They celebrate his law and his past actions.  They sing about God’s strength, his power, his trustworthiness and, yes, his lovingkindness.  But through all of it they seem intent on nothing more than explaining, as loudly as possible, how awesome God is, of himself, without reference to how they feel about him.

When our biblical models make almost no reference to an idea, it’s troubling to come across it so often.  Worship songs are the most common, but not the only, example of taking the metaphor of God as Lover to an inappropriate application.   I love God, but I love him in different ways and for different reasons than the two protagonists of Tangled love each other – it would be nice if our practical theology acknowledged that.

  1. YES!

    • Stephen Hale
    • June 13th, 2011

    Very interesting…

    As a side note: the Hebrew word translated “lovingkindness” is a problematic term for translators, because it conveys so much more than any one english word. It sort of means “faithfulness” but it sort of means “loving nature” and sort of means “gentle kindness.”

    Chesed, the word is usually transliterated.

    Unlike most of the time when people point out greek/hebrew terms, this one is worth knowing. 🙂
    I only mention it, though, because it LOOKS like (in English translations) it approaches romantic love, but it doesn’t have that connotation at all.
    Reinforcing your point, Alica.

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