Music that Writes Culture, Part 7

I mentioned earlier that years ago I had a “revelation” when I was singing this hymn. This was the stanza that startled me. There is an imperative here, “No more let sins and sorrows grow!”  How far?  “As far as the curse is found.”  Here in this hymn are marching orders for Christians.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessing flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

It is interesting that this stanza is left out of many of the modern renditions of this carol. I can’t help wondering if perhaps it is left out because it is a call for action in response to a message, not simply a happy proclamation.  It asks for human responsibility and accountability for engaging in God’s big agenda.  In the middle of the “feel good” season of the modern Christmas, perhaps we do not want to hear anything that requires actual effort.

As cultures move away from Biblical revelation, the celebration of Christmas has deformed from being primarily a reverent celebration of Christ’s birth to include St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, snow, a red-nosed reindeer, Christmas trees, and, of course, massive consumer spending.

But this carol calls us back to reality.

The setting for this stanza is the Garden of Eden after the fall.  There is pain in childbirth and there are weeds in the garden.  This pain and sorrow has grown over the years into three major forms of evil.  The first is personal evil.  Human beings are sinners.  We think evil thoughts, say evil words, and make evil decisions.  The second is natural evil. There are weeds in the garden, floods, droughts, earthquakes, famine, pollution, sickness, and death.  Third, there is institutional evil:  slavery, apartheid, the caste system, children and female sex trade, corruption in every level of society, the frank promotion of evil by the media and arts, and abortion.

Christ has come to make His blessing flow as far as the curse is found.  But His people are to engage in this restoration and transformation process:  ”no more let sins and sorrows grow.”

Here is a call that relates to the world and to the earth.  In our world – privately and publicly, for cultures and nations – we are to stand against personal and institutional evil.  In the earth, we are to stand against the natural evil, the thorns that infest the ground.  We are to be stewards of the earth and protect and nurture “the garden.”

There is a relationship between the growth of sins and the growth of sorrows.  Sin always has its consequent sorrow.  But we live in a world in which human responsibility is downplayed.  We are all like addicts.  The problems we face are not of our making. They are always someone else’s fault.  ”The devil made me do it!”  ”It was my brother’s fault!”  ”It was my wife/husband!”  ”It’s God’s fault!”  ”It’s the government’s responsibility to fix it!”

This carol was written within the framework of the reality that we are made in the image of God; we are moral creatures; we have the ability to make decisions that have real consequences.  We are to function as responsible human beings.  Where do sorrows come from?  They come from sin!

As an example, let’s look at the “global economic crisis” that unfolded in 2008 (see an earlier series I’ve written on this issue).  The pain and sorrow of this crisis is being felt around the world and may well continue for years.

What set it off?  Behavior stemming from not following Biblical principles of personal integrity and sound economic stewardship.  It was not one thing.  It was a plurality of sins.  Congressmen forced institutions to offer unsecured loans.  Financial institutions saw a way to make a quick buck during a housing boom and offered those unsecured loans.  Federal watchdog agencies failed to be watchdogs and turned a blind eye to the institutional evil.  Loan officers sold loans that they knew people could not pay off. People bought houses that they could never afford.  They wanted something for which they did not have to work or save.  And, there were Christians involved in these practices at all levels of the process – but they were not functioning as Christians.  Now we are facing all the sorrows from this long, long tale of sinful decisions.

Christians are not to “go along to get along.”  We are to stand against personal, natural, and institutional evil.

As a historic example in the arena of natural evil, modern science was birthed out of this older theological understanding.  Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton were scientists who functioned consciously from a Biblical worldview.  For them there was no separation between faith and science.  They understood the significance of the fall and the relationship between thorns and sins and their corresponding sorrows. Their lives were given to fight against the natural evil in the world.  And from that fight was birthed what we know today as “modern science.”

Like these godly men we are to work for restoration – towards a garden free from weeds, a city free from corruption and poverty, art and music that promote a culture of life and beauty.  We are not to be spectators of what is unfolding in our communities and nations.  We are to be the shapers of our cultures, the builders of our nations.

We are no longer to let sins and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground.  We are to be Christ’s instruments for the flow of his blessings as far as the curse is found.

How are we consciously seeking ways to stand against sins and sorrows?

-Darrow L. Miller

There are two final posts left in the series!  Check back tomorrow for the next one!  To view the other posts in this series, click here.

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