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O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound

April 8th, 2009 1 comment

I recently happened to hear the hymn “O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound.” (Here.) It’s a beautiful arrangement, and I wondered that I hadn’t heard the hymn before. I googled for it awhile, but couldn’t find it.

But it kept bugging me, so I posted an inquiry on Facebook, and someone there found it here on ehymnbook.org. (That was a particularly helpful link, since I hadn’t stumbled upon ehymnbook.org before. Now I’ve bookmarked it for future use.)

As for the hymn, now that I have lyrics, I see it is a great example of traditional hymnody:

Eternity thy fountain was,
Which, like thee, no beginning knew;
Thou wast ere time began his race,
Ere glowed with stars the ethereal blue.

This is why so many hymns are inaccessible to so many Christ followers today. The language is both dated (“wast,” “ere,”) and esoteric (“ethereal”). It is also poetic, and, as a result, difficult to follow — especially when you don’t have written lyrics to parse. The syntax in the first line is inverted, and time is personified in the 3rd line. Say what you will about “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” but it doesn’t take much effort to understand what the lyrics are about.

Now, the music for “O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound” was very nice (to my ear; I’m no expert). But you would expect that, with J.S. Bach having improved upon what the Geistliche Lieder gave him. But music comes and goes. How many hit singles did Bach have last year?

And yet, for all its difficulties, it would be a shame if this hymn disappeared. How many songs can you think of which distinguish between time and eternity? That’s pretty deep theology. And it’s just one verse out of six!

Let the record show, by the way, that I like praise music. Well, mostly. I tend to grit my teeth after about four choruses of anything, even my favorites. But if I’m in the zone, I can put up with more. And I’m a whole lot more likely to become en-zoned with praise music than traditional hymnody.

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