12 Awkward Metaphors in Worship Songs

I’m writing these comments as someone who has great appreciation for the modern worship movement.  Still….

Am I the only one who has noticed a spate of unusual metaphors popping up in our worship songs in recent years?

There isn’t anything profound that I’m trying to communicate in this post. I’m simply issuing a plea to exercise more care when we employ metaphors in worship music.

Following are 12 worship-song metaphors that I find at least a bit awkward. (And, yes, I know some of these are similes or personifications.) I apologize in advance if you like these lines or the songs in which they are found. Personally, I like some of them quite a lot! Let me also clarify in advance that I love metaphors; please don’t think of me as a wooden literalist.[1]

Awkward Worship-Song Metaphors:

“Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing.”[2]

Bones will sing?

“I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.”[3]

That must require a lot of balance.

“Go on and scream it from the mountains.”[4]

I sure hope this is a metaphor.

“You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus, you brought heaven down.”[5]

Besides the question of whether the first line is theologically appropriate, what does it mean to bring heaven down?

“When you move, you move all our fears. When you move, you move us to tears. When you fall, we fall on our knees.”[6]

Notice that there are three meanings of “move” and two meanings of “fall” in these lines. The first meaning of each of these two words is Christianese jargon. There is little chance that an outsider to church culture will be able to figure out what these words mean.

“And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss.”[7]

The song in which this line appears packs quite a few awkward metaphors besides this one. Did you know that this line was originally: “And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss”?[8] Now that’s awkward.

“I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves.”[9]

I get how someone could metaphorically taste a sweet love, but why add something about seeing?

“So I’ll walk upon salvation.”[10]

Not sure what it means to walk upon salvation…

“Dancers who dance upon injustice.”[11]

Injustice is far too serious a subject to minimize with an image of someone dancing upon it. And how would someone dance upon injustice, anyway?

“And what was said to the rose to make it unfold was said to me here in my chest.”[12]

????????

“The darling of heaven, crucified.”[13]

It feels a bit irreverent, at least to me, to refer to Jesus as “the darling of heaven.” But I gladly admit that I may be hearing a nuance that you aren’t.

“These sufferings, this passing tide, under your wings I will abide.”[14]

I get the metaphors, but the combination of sufferings/tide and wings is a bit discordant.

Those are some of the metaphors I have found either unusual, or in the worst cases, jarring. Have you encountered others? Feel free to add them to the comments section below. (Please note that I’ll edit or delete any comment that feels too snarky. My goal in this post is not to be generally critical, but to encourage care in worship music composition and selection.)

I recently came across an article about a professional songwriter who was driven away from Christianity at least partially by a poor use of metaphor in a worship song.[15] That’s an extreme case, I know, but it is a reminder that we need to think carefully about our lyrics, including the way we employ metaphors in contemporary worship music.


[1] See a short discussion of metaphors in Kenneth Berding, Walking in the Spirit, pages 21-22.

[2] “Great are You, Lord.” All Sons & Daughters.

[3] “Nothing I Hold Onto.” Will Reagan & United Pursuit.

[4] “All the Poor and Powerless.” All Sons & Daughters.

[5] “What a Beautiful Name.” Ben Fielding, Brooke Ligertwood, Hillsong.

[6] “Spirit of the Living God.” Jacob Sooter, Vertical Worship.

[7] “How He Loves.” David Crowder Band.

[8] Here’s an explanation of why the line got changed.

[9] “Holy Spirit.” Kari Jobe and Cody Cairnes.

[10] “The Stand.” Joel Houston, Hillsong.

[11] “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble / Dance In The River.” Martin Smith, Delirious?.

[12] “Here is Our King.” David Crowder Band.

[13] “Worthy is the Lamb.” Darlene Zschech, Hillsong.

[14] “Praise the Father, Praise the Son.” Chris Tomlin.

[15] Casey Black, “How a terrible worship song drove me from Christianity.” Nashville Scene, November 20, 2014.

6 thoughts on “12 Awkward Metaphors in Worship Songs

  1. I’m reminded about what worship should be and why liturgy is so important. I get spontaneous worship, but N.T. Wright says “good Christian liturgy is friendship in action, love taking thought, the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared – an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about.” Amen!

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  2. Dr. Berding! This is great stuff here. I agree with just about all of it, however I was wondering about the tasted and seen verse. I have problems with that song for other reasons, but the language of “tasted and seen” is used in Scripture to say that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good”. Would it be too far out to say that we can taste and see God’s love in the same way that we may taste and see God’s goodness? Again, very thankful for this post, just a quick question!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Ken. Good stuff here. Likely you know — sometimes it is a real internal battle for me to go forward and utilize really popular songs that are otherwise really well-written, but contain a single unfortunate line or phrase. (It makes me cringe at the publishing process; i.e. where are the editors, the pastors, the poet-proofs, the publishers? And are the songwriters simply not listening to appropriate critique?)

    I agree with Cole that Ps. 34:8 exonerates one of your songs.

    I think “Great Are You Lord” may also be acquitted with Ezekiel’s “dry bones” analogy of dead bones coming to life. Nothing expresses life quite like singing, right? As I go there immediately, this song works for me.

    I couldn’t sing “Worthy is the Lamb” back when it was popular 20+ years ago, until I solved the “darling” issue. Just couldn’t do it. So, we took some time in choir one night in a brainstorming session — with the whole song literally on the line for that Sunday. What word could we substitute? One of my altos eventually suggested “treasure”. Suddenly our group brainstorm found unanimity! We only sang it that way thereafter (i.e. “the treasure of heaven crucified”). As it was a congregational favorite, I completely forgot we changed it, until years later when I’d moved to a different state and heard it sung as original. Wow did I cringe! Who changed it to “Darling”, and why?!? LOL.

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    1. Thanks for your helpful comments, Craig. I have always appreciated how thoughtful you are about the content of worship songs. And your suggestion about Ezekiel 37 for “these bones will sing” is a good one. It’s a shame to completely avoid singing a good song like “Great are You Lord” over a single line.

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  4. There’s an oft-repeated bridge that grates on me from a popular worship song, “Your Love Never Fails” (Anthony Skinner & Chris McClarney). I know it’s not a metaphor in this case, and it is a catchy song, but the focus of the wording in the bridge raises red flags for me every time it is sung. The bridge repeats and repeats, “You make all things work together for MY GOOD.” Although that does have some support from Romans 8:28, the individual focus and what people commonly consider as being “good” makes it come across like God is there to serve us. For a while I just stopped singing the bridge, but then came up with a better solution, and now just confidently sing, “You make all things work together for YOUR good.” I prefer serving an omniscient, sovereign God, rather than trying to construe him as one who serves me in order to make me happy.

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