Sunday, June 13, 2010

How can I keep from singing . . .

How can I keep from singing

I woke up this morning with the chorus of an old gospel song running through my head. It’s most likely a manifestation of a form of obsessive/compulsive neurosis that it has kept playing like a stuck needle through my mind for hours now. Ever happen to you?

Some might say it’s a message from God . . . or some other competing deity out there. They might say that there are no "coincidences," that every act, thought, word, etc. has a precursor.

Here’s the chorus: "Are you washed in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb? Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?"

I once brought up the questionable theology expressed in the lyrics of a song we were rehearsing as a choir. Someone said, "I hardly notice the words; for me it’s the music, the cadence, the harmony, the dynamics," or words to that effect. I write; I notice the words, the sentences, the punctuation. It’s my curse, I guess.

The Hebrew people would sacrifice animals as an offering to God, lambs included. If I recall correctly, they would slit its throat and collect the blood in a bowl for ceremonial, "kosher" disposal. It’s a gruesome image, but probably no more so than the slaughter of animals for food. We sacrifice animals to ourselves, drain the blood down the sewer.

In Christian theology—and hymnody—the death of Christ on the cross is compared metaphorically to the animal sacrifice in that its effect is the relief of the burden of guilt and makes a soul once again acceptable in God’s eyes. For this, the innocent lamb must die as a sacrifice. The scapegoat . . . or scapelamb.

To wash oneself in the blood of the lamb, however, is probably a case of extending the metaphor well beyond what was ever intended and, indeed, into the area of the macabre. There’s nothing to like about this hymn except the cadence, the harmony, the dynamics of the tune. It’s catchy. It won’t leave my head.

It’s probably impossible to measure how many innocents die daily as sacrifices for the sins of others. Soldiers conscripted into battle, victims of "collateral damage," children killed by drunk drivers, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

I expect that the writer of this hymn got it all wrong. The meaning of Christ’s death is far better understood in the light of the collateral damage of human greed, selfishness and inhumanity than in the metaphor of the lamb slain on the altar of propitiation.

I’m waiting for a better song today. Maybe it will be that wonderful Robert Lowery tune. "My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I catch the sweet, though far off hymn that hails a new creation."

An hour later: Agnes and I went biking for half an hour and running through my head now is the following: "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging. Since love is Lord of heav'n and earth, how can I keep from singing. It worked.


  1. You mention in one of your writings that you are a teacher of the Bible in your church.Yet you seem to question what the Bible teaches. The writer of the hymn you mention had it exactly right.Read Rom. 3:23 and Rom. 5:12 and 1John 2:2. All the descendants of Adam inherited his sinful nature (Gen.5:3)
    It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses from all sin. 1John:1:7

  2. First of all, I am not impressed by the making of comments anonymously. I make my statements openly and am open to discussion.
    To "anonymous" I would say that I agree in the metaphoric sense, but I would challenge him to show how washing our garments in Jesus' blood could ever have been meant literally. Surely the writer knows that these are metaphors; they fit into the category of the parables.
    Jesus was prepared to go to his death for the principles set out by the father. We are spiritually "saved" by following in those footsteps.
    The evangelical stream of North American Christianity has taken the standpoint that salvation is miraculous. If we're to quote scripture, let us also refer to Matthew 25: 31-46 where Jesus clearly teaches that the separation of the righteous from the cursed is a function of the degree to which his example is followed, i.e. the feeding of the hungry, visiting of prisoners, etc. Salvation is not a magical act; it is an outcome of following Christ's example in the way we live in the above passage.
    Consider this: a recent study found that evangelical pastors consume pornography above the average rate. Saved form sin, where they?