Look at the Lyrics: Above All

By: Michael Simmelink

The lyrics to our praise songs matter. They put the words in our mouth to describe God. Who He is, what He’s done, how we react are all depicted in song. Christians need to take this seriously and start thinking about what we’re singing. Does it line up with Scripture? Do we believe this is how God interacts with His creation? If not, then maybe we aren’t really talking about Yahweh at all.

To pick out a single song and critique an artist is unfair. Most songwriters compile multiple CDs that cover a whole range of topics, feelings, subjects, and emotions. Most are perfectly orthodox and add to our spiritual life.

The problem is we don’t sing albums in church; we sing songs from different artists, splicing them off a record and matching them with similar songs to fit a service. It’s not ideal, and it can lead to an incomplete or distorted theology.  Here’s an example of how I would break down the lyrics of “Above All,” by Michael W. Smith.

Above all powers
Above all kings
Above all nature
And all created things
Above all wisdom
And all the ways of man
You were here
Before the world began

Above all kingdoms
Above all thrones
Above all wonders
The world has ever known
Above all wealth
And treasures of the earth
There’s no way to measure
What You’re worth

Crucified
Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose
Trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all

Overt Message:
Michael W. Smith is emphasizing the sovereignty and power of God. The Almighty ranks number one in any of the categories listed in the song. We simply cannot comprehend God because He has always been (you were here / before the world began) so much more than we can grasp.

Subtle Message:
The challenge with glorifying God in the way Smith does (constantly using “above all”) is it can be hard to do without distancing God from humanity. God is loftier than humanity, but does that necessarily mean He is above us? I worry about what it infers to repeatedly use words that puts God overhead of us, up in the sky. The truth is God is in our midst right now. He’s on the ground with us, surrounding our hands as we work the soil.

Smith’s chorus in this song makes a shift from the glory of God to specifically the glory revealed in the coming of Jesus Christ. As is the tendency with most contemporary songs, the heart of the lyrics are Christocentric, or focusing on the Son of the Trinity. This isn’t a bad thing, but it seems to be severely limited in its scope of what Jesus did. Every part of the chorus has to do with Christ’s death and absolutely nothing about His resurrection. Were we atoned to God when Jesus breathed His last breath, or was it when He rolled away the stone? We do not rejoice on Good Friday, but rather shout from the hilltops on Easter Sunday. It is the resurrection that gives us our chance to be reconciled with God. Jesus absorbing the hit (trampled on the ground / you took the fall) is useless with His resurrection.

Almost all contemporary praise songs are guilty of the next charge. Singular pronouns are the only kind used in this whole song. Not once is there a mention of we, us, our. It isolates the relationship between Jesus and each individual sinner. The reality is that Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” He didn’t call out the Romans by name, why would He do anything differently for the rest? Is it realistic to think that Jesus went through every person to ever live, including 21st century Americans, and actually thought of individuals as He died on the cross? That sounds very egocentric and more of a reflection on our “me-first” culture than what the Bible has to teach.

Let’s remember these things so we glorify God in a way that also keeps in mind what He did in the incarnation.

 

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One thought on “Look at the Lyrics: Above All

  1. Michael Simmelink says:

    “It is the resurrection that gives us our chance to be reconciled with God. Jesus absorbing the hit (trampled on the ground / you took the fall) is useless with His resurrection.” needs to be changed to “useless WITHOUT His resurrection.” Thanks to Matt Honken for the correction

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