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Why We Sing Repentance

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series

"Out of the Depths"

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Psalm 130, a corporate song of repentance, has shown us the power of art to both tell us what true repentance should be like and also show us artistically through use of metaphors, and repetition, careful word choice, and names for God.

And this is why we sing. We sing not only to say right things, although everything we sing should be right. We sing not only to teach us truth, although everything we sing should teach truth.

We sing so that we can express and experience truth in ways that are not possible otherwise—that is the power of art. This is why God inspired much of his Word as artistic literature; it communicates aspects of his truth that can be expressed only through the use of artistic expression.

Since God is a spirit and does not have a body like man, since he is infinite, eternal, and totally other than us, God chose to use particular aesthetic forms to communicate truth about himself that would not have been possible otherwise. This is why Scripture uses all sorts of artistic devices to communicate truth about God—some of these devices are in this psalm, and some are in other psalms or portions of Scripture. These are tools that poets use to communicate truth in ways that mere prose cannot.

This is why Scripture calls God a king, and a shepherd, and a rock, and a fortress; he is not literally those things; they are metaphors that artistically communicate something about the nature of God. This is why Scripture uses parallelism, and alliteration, and allegory, and so many other artistic devices. These aesthetic forms are essential to the truth itself since God’s inspired Word is exactly the best way that truth could be presented.

Selecting Hymns That Are Good

Allow me to give an example of how important and powerful this is. First John 1:9 commands us as Christians to regularly confess our sins to God as part of our progressive sanctification; it is essentially a summation of Psalm 130: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here is a simple, clear statement of our need for repentance. We should preach this truth; we should teach this truth to our families and to our churches.

But what if you preach this need for repentance, and someone asks you, “Well. What does this look like?” You might explain to them that repentance is a turning away from our sin and a commitment to follow God, but they might still press you: “How do I know I’ve repented? What does true repentance feel like? What is the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow that leads to repentance?”

Fathers, how do you teach your children what true repentance is? Pastors, how do you teach true repentance to your congregation? You would be hard pressed to thoroughly communicate what true repentance is like. You probably could eventually, but it would take a whole lot of explanation.

But you could express the nature of true repentance fairly easily with a song like Psalm 130. A poem that uses this artistic language to paint a picture helps us to communicate what would otherwise be very difficult. It helps us to enable people to experience for themselves what repentance is like, and so a good song of repentance can shape and mold us to be people of repentance.

The Hymns of Timothy Dudley-Smith
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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

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