Monday, July 10, 2006

Where When is home?

There are so many otherwise great hymns that lose it in the final verse, suggesting a gnostic flight from the world into a 'home' elsewhere, beyond the skies. Revelation speaks of a 'new heavens and a new earth', and pictures the heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth (not the other way) - I take this (amongst other verses - this probably needs a series of its own) to mean that Christians are hoping for the resurrection of the dead onto a restored/renovated earth, not a flight off onto another world or into a disembodied 'spiritual' existence with God.

Compounding the error, many hymns seem to place this hope at the point of death, such that death becomes a doorway into this 'heavenly bliss'. While death for the believer is indeed accompanied by the promise that we will be 'with' Christ, this seems to be very much a sub-theme of the New Testament. More important is what happens after the 'afterlife' - namely, real life once more in a perfected body upon a liberated earth. Perhaps once again, there is a series of posts waiting to be done here.

For many hymns, perhaps a simple correction is available: simply replacing a locative reference with a temporal one. Instead of our hope being located elsewhere, it might be less confusing to sing of its being located elsewhen. I'd love to start compiling a list of hymns that could be improved on this point. Any suggestions?
BTW ten points for picking this Sydney landmark. Twenty if you're not from Sydney.

24 comments:

Mister Tim said...

Looks like the ANZAC Bridge, but that was never my part of Sydney and it's been a while...

Drew said...

Great pic. You've inspired me to dig through my photo archives for a few to brighten up my blog...

er.. off the top of my head. Rock of Ages (Toplady):

"When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne"

(ok, that last bit isn't off the top of my head).

Emma said...

Hey Byron,

It is the ANZAC bridge isn't it?
Hey, today I jumped on the blog bandwagon and actually, I blame you!

See you tomorrow, love em

byron said...

Yes, that last verse of Rock of Ages has always bugged me, esp since I can't think of an easy 'correction'. I'll add the lack of resurrection in 'There is a fountain':

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I'll sing thy power to save.

Even though this isn't strictly about the issue in my post, it's still a final verse that bugs me with deficient eschatology.

Ten points to Mr Tim (or maybe 15, since you're no longer in Sydney but have come from here). I walked across the bridge for the first time yesterday, having driven over many times.

And five points to Em. :-)

No points to anyone else, though a warm fuzzy if you got it without looking at the comments. We know you really didn't cheat.

Matheson said...

Ooo! Let's have more guess-what-this-is photo competitions on your blog!! (But only if you can come up with a way of weaving them into the theme of eschatology, of course. I'm sure you can. You're a clever boy.)

Rob said...

Hmm, here's one, though it's not exactly the last verse:

Christ the Lord is Risen Today:

"Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!"

To me this suggests a flying away to heaven, following Jesus our leader.

I completely understand your annoyance with this strange unbiblical, yet traditionally "Christian" eschatology that is present in most hymns.

Now, if you wanna hear a *real* kicker, our worship leader has us all sing "Joy to the World", and he said that it isn't really a Christmas song, but rather a song about Christ's return. Talk about stripping Christ of his present kingship! I know it's not exactly eschatological (well, the ascension and the entronement were eschatological to the first century audience anyhow), but it shows the confused biblical ideas infused into the modern, American Christian mind.

byron said...

Matheson, I'd love to, but I've only got a limited supply of interesting non-obvious shots of Sydney landmarks (and most of the are of the Anzac Bridge, taken on Sunday afternoon...). I guess I could also include things from recent trip to Europe and US... We'll see. Maybe I could continue the points system with higher points to the first correct guess...

byron said...

Rob, yeah, there's some work to be done on flying themes in hymnody based on misreadings of 1 Th 4.

Justin said...

There is a blessed home /
beyond this land of woe.

Could become:

There is a blessed home /
after this land of woe.

And the final verse ends with:

His own most gracious smile /
Shall welcome you above.

Could become:

His own most gracious smile /
Shall welcome you below.

:)

byron said...

Thanks Justin, though perhaps that last suggestion could be taken in quite the wrong way by some with a tri-partite cosmology!

Justin said...

His own most gracious smile /
Shall welcome you right hear.

?

byron said...

Much better!

("right here" for the pedants...)

Justin said...

I'm certainly not a pedent!

I make a point of it.

John P. said...

I doubt there are any hymns that speak more of a flight then the old folk hymn so popular in the southern part of America (see Oh, Brother Where Art Thou for context) as "I'll Fly Away"...

(note: the text often cited with this song is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Some glad morning
when this life is o'er
I'll fly away
To a home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away ( O glory )
I'll fly away ( in the morning )
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by
I'll fly away ( fly away )

When the shadows of this life have grown
I'll fly away
Like a bird from prison bars has flown I'll fly away

* Refrain

Just a few more weary days and then I'll fly away
To a land where joys shall never end I'll fly away

* Refrain


Though often theologically inappropriate, the bluegrass hymns of the old south still have quite an emotional hold...

byron said...

Justin: I noticed... :-)

John: yes, though bluegrass hasn't really had the same impact over here, that soundtrack was both fantastic and frustrating at the same time.

MartyK said...

Did Newton get it right first time?
"When we've been there ten thousand years"?

byron said...

'There' speaks of a location distant from us. This may be in time or space, though generally implies space (or both). So I've never been completely happy with this verse. How about 'When we've been then ten thousand years...'? Doesn't really work...

Marty K said...

Actually I was thinking of the "when" rather than the "then".

byron said...

Marty: yeah, I guess he does at least acknowledge a temporal distinction between now and then through 'when', but if there is also an implied spatial flight from the world, then I'm still concerned.

Marty K said...

"When we've been here..."?

byron said...

Yeah, maybe... not sure it will catch on.

byron said...

Another one to add to the hall of shame tonight (though it's otherwise a fav): Jesus, Your Blood and Righteousness by Zinzendorf (though often mistakenly attributed to Wesley - a painful mistake). The second last verse runs:

When from the dust of death I arise,
to claim my home beyond the skies;
Then this shall be my only plea,
that Jesus died and lives for me.

I simply substitute beneath for beyond.

byron said...

And another from Chapel last Wednesday:
I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
Final verse:
He will keep me till the river
Rolls its waters at my feet;
Then He'll bear me safely over
Where the loved ones I shall meet.

Where and when did the image of the river (Jordan/death) become popular? Pilgrim's Progress or earlier? It's also in Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.

byron said...

Another example:

Love divine, all loves excelling
Here's the final verse:
Finish then thy new creation
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee,
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!

The problem begins in line 2: the new creation is limited to us, rather than embracing the entire created order, for which Christ died (Col 1.15-20). Thus, the goal is then not the liberation of creation from its bondage to decay through the resurrection of the dead, but for us to ascend to heaven. The imagry of Rev 4-5 has been taken as the final goal, instead of Rev 21-22, where heaven comes to earth, just as we pray for regularly in the Lord's prayer: thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.