So I got my new issue of Paste in the mail yesterday and ran across a great article. I was even able to use it in my worship-leading class I teach at ICS. You can read an online version of it here, it’s on page 18. It’s titled Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath and draws connections between death metal and old hymns, specifically their morbid focus on blood and death.
This is not just a funny juxtaposition, but I believe contemporary Christianity can learn a lot from the past hymns and current death metal. Today during my chapel talk at my school, I was going through Psalm 51. In this psalm, David takes some time dwelling on his sin- the first 5 or 6 verses are just filled with darkness and despair and grief over his current condition. For example, in verse 3 he writes, “my sin is ever before me.”
In the contemporary church when we talk about sin, we don’t often leave much room before going to forgiveness. How often do we dwell on our sin, realize that it is “ever before us”? Probably not too often. Instead of bringing up forgiveness as if the word was connected to death or sin, I think we would do well to dwell on our humanity- our fallen, dirty, disgusting humanity.
The main reason for this is not morbidity in itself, but it is to see how far down in the pit we really are- because of that, how far down our Savior had to reach to get us out of the pit, ultimately we see a Savior bigger than one who is applying band-aids. He’s providing life to the dying- to those who are dead.
And dwelling on the cross in all its wretchedness gives us a picture of the length our Savior went to secure a people of his own. We love the fluorescent-lighted, happy-grinning, thumbs-up giving Jesus, not the down-trodden, spat-upon, cross-bearing, bleeding Jesus. We (myself included) can easily turn Christ’s death on the cross into a joke. By recognizing its bloody reality, we get the real picture of hope- the death of death in the death of Christ (probably the coolest name for a book ever).
So let’s learn from death metal, as we above all people get hope from something that seems hopeless- death and spilled blod. And go out there and do a hardcore version of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
There is a most curious thing about Psalm 51 which focuses us off of ourselves. If you study this diagram (http://bmd.gx.ca/psalms/852.htm) of the psalm you will see that the centre of each stanza is not David’s sin but God’s righteousness. The centres are defined by the word structures. The circular structures are most clear in this psalm. (See this explanation http://drmacdonald.blogspot.com/2007/10/translating-psalm-51.html)
Loving the new site brother…hope life is going well for you and the lady. I must go now…getting lectured.
I remember thinking in college that “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” along with “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” were pretty cool “Halloween” sort of hymns. Nice post; a lot to reflect on.
@Andrew: life is going OK- I hope you’re digging Chicago! And you’re in my feed reader now…
@John: “O Sacred Head” has a million verses! And nothing like languishing visages…but of course, they don’t touch “Come, Ye Sinners.”
Hey dude – this site is awesome and I need to catch with you, you freak!
@Bob: That is very interesting, I especially liked the circles diagram- I love those diagrams on your site.
Just for a clarification: I’m definitely not saying that we should just look at ourselves, there is no doubt a movement from us and our sin to God and His righteousness, I was just saying that we don’t often like to dwell on our sin in the same way that Psalm 51 teaches.
I know of several churches that have changed their foci in sermons with this in mind. The concern is that the reality of sin, the brutal and savageness of a sinful act is glossed over to win people. Where is the line, really? Do we talk about sin, do we talk about the cross, do we talk about good news, what is the balance? What topics did I not mention that are of vast importance? Good thing God uses each person as a individual to accomplish his will. Otherwise too few topics would be address by too few people.
@Chuck: Definitely a good point- as an individual we can’t say everything, but as a community we have a better possibility of rounding out God’s truth. Finding that line, I think, depends on the context- we can’t say, “At all times we say ‘x’.” And this seems to be how the New Testament talks about worship- it has its guidelines and limitations in which freedom can act. It’s one messy process, but it’s how God designed it.