This question came from Jeff:
One of the members of my worship team is struggling with the line from one of your songs, Glory Be to God. The line is “Being’s source begins to be.” She feels that it communicates that God is not eternal, that there was a time when the second Person of the Trinity did not exist and then began to be. I have tried teach her that language always has to be interpreted in context and that the line is basically highlighting the mystery of the incarnation – that Jesus was both infinite God and somehow a finite man
(or baby)…Is it acceptable to change the line of the song when we sing it to “Being’s source becomes a babe”? I would rather not, but I am not sure how much I should try to accommodate her.
The first thing I want to say is how grateful to God I am when people ask me about the words to the songs we sing. That means they’re actually thinking about them! The verse in question is this:
Emptied of his majesty
He comes in human form
Being’s source begins to be
And God is born
We need to understand how lyrics work in songs for worship. There is a poetic aspect to them that helps us see truth from a new perspective – not new truth, but a new way of looking at it that helps us see another facet of the truth. That’s one of the differences between poetry and prose. The form itself causes us to hear things in a fresh way.
Jesus has not eternally been man. He became man when he was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. In that sense he came to “be.” But he is also the one through whom everything was created (Col. 1:16). So in that sense he is “being’s source.” The line simply puts those two thoughts together in a way that should make us marvel, not confused. It would take away from the effect to change the lyric to what you suggested (although I appreciate your desire to try something else). In general, though, I don’t recommend changing lines from songs that are currently under copyright, for two reasons. First, it honors the writer’s intent. Second, there are so many other songs we can choose from!
When considering the theological accuracy of a lyric, I take into account what the rest of the song is saying and whether or not a certain understanding is likely or simply within the realm of possibility. If it’s the latter, and the rest of the song makes the meaning clear, I generally don’t worry about it. (My really smart and gracious friend, Jeff Purswell, has taught me that.) I think that’s the case here. You could also find problem with the line “and God is born.” God is from everlasting to everlasting. But Jesus is God, so in one sense God was “born” in Bethlehem. I might add that there are many lines of hymns sung today that could be scrutinized for error and fail the theological test. (the line “God and sinners reconciled” from “Hark the Herald.” Does that mean that all sinners are reconciled, or just some? Is it preaching universal salvation? I don’t think so.)
An example that I think fails the test is the song “Above All.” The last lines of the chorus say:
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall and thought of me
Paul Baloche, who wrote this song with Lenny LeBlanc, has received a great deal of criticism for that line. Paul is a very humble guy and a good friend. When I asked him about it a few years ago he said he simply wanted to communicate the wonderful truth that Jesus had me in mind when he died for me. I wasn’t simply a nameless face. It confirms what Paul said in Galatians 2:20:
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
However, the phrase “above all” communicates that Jesus thought about me more than his Father’s glory. That’s simply not true. Because I think that’s the most natural understanding, I don’t use the song. But I do understand how people can sing the song and not take it in the “me-centered” way it sounds.Finally, in talking these things through with someone who’s struggling with a particular lyric, I’d encourage them to consider that not everyone understands it the way they do, that few probably will, and that our faith is filled with seeming paradoxes that should lead us to worship God, not struggle. In our efforts to sing what is biblical we want to avoid having an arrogant attitude that’s not.
Hope that’s helpful. Thanks for caring about what the church sings.