Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone. In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it. Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.
On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:
Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.
Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.
The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?
On one hand, I want to say yes. Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas. As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary. Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively.
However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.
For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists. Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.
God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!