Was blind, but now I see.

1 : 2 December 2001



SEND YOUR ARTICLES FOR PUBLICATION IN Christian Literature Today. M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


(Revisiting Gary Johnson's Reminded of His Goodness. Bethany House Publishers, 1981 and subsequent editions.)

The cover page of 'Reminded of His Goodness.' Courtesy: Bethany House Publishers.


Francis Schaeffer once wrote, "I have listened to Lullabye for the Unborn several times, and it really is wonderful in every way. Just wish every radio station in the U.S. would play it!" Gary, the author and composer of this song, wrote about the same hymn, "As you look at Lullabye for the Unborn, you may wonder with us if the developments of our times have perhaps taken even God by surprise."

Gary and Carol Johnson, leading publishers of Christian literature for nearly four decades, have devoted their entire lives to the evangelization of the people around the world through publishing books. While this in itself is a great ministry anointed by the Lord, (for, through the sale of these books, missionaries around the world are supported, Christians in the English-speaking world are mentored, and the non-Christians are given the Gospel in subtle ways), they are also personally involved in the creative work of composing and singing songs of worship and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some people never get tired of or feel satisfied with what they have done so far; they seize every opportunity to get involved in the ministry of the Lord.


The relationship between poetry, hymns, lyrics, and worship songs is hard to define. Hardly any distinction is made between these forms of expression in the major world religions. With the secularization of the world at large, we tend to look at these as distinct entities. If at all we wish to make any distinction, this may come from certain structural characteristics such as the abundance of metaphor, suggestion, and other poetic devices in poetry that may not be freely employed in hymns, lyrics, and worship songs. Retrieval of meaning is often easier and direct in the latter categories of poetic expressions. Pun on the word is kept to the minimum, and poetic rhythm subordinates itself to the music in the latter categories. Hymns, lyrics, and worship songs make direct reference rather than allusions to the story of Jesus Christ, God as Creator and Father, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Poetry, however, focuses itself more on innovation. While poetry continues to be an individualized experience, hymns, lyrics, and worship songs are primarily intended for a communal experience. There is a greater occurrence of address and terms of direct address in hymns and worship songs. On the other hand, allusions, indirect references, and suggestive references are more common in poetry. The structure of a poem is very important for poetry, for, the structure itself may communicate in a novel way what is intended. In hymns and worship songs, musical notes dominate, not the formal structure of the hymn or song. Relish and delicacy are very important for a poem, but simplicity and moving of the heart and the stirring of the soul and spirit is important for the hymn and worship song. For a Christian, a piece of art must always give itself to the transforming ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.


There is something unusual about Gary's songs. He tries to marry the hymn and poetry deliberately and we get a piece of art that is novel, rich in music, and elevated in spiritual experience and meaning.


Consider the song Lullabye for the Unborn:

Tiny hands with fingers small,
Will they someday catch a ball?
Will he take his daddy's hand,
Walk beside him in the sand?
Life began twelve weeks ago,
Planted there in love to grow,
Yes, he'll take his daddy's hand,
If he fits his mother's plan.

Tiny eyes, yes they'll be blue,
Can't see now, but when they do,
Animals will make her laugh,
Silly monkey, tall giraffe;
She'll see dolls and flowers bright,
Watch the moon drift thru the night;
But not for her this joy to be,
Daddy wants a boy, you see.

Tiny ears, what will they hear?
Mother's voice in times of fear,
Sounds of raindrops on the roof,
Rhythm of the horses' hoof;
Daddy whisp'ring "I love you,"
Hear the Christmas carols, too;
But Mother's voice he'll never hear,
Having him would interfere.

Weep for the man, a father was he,
But never a daddy will be.
Weep for the mother whose freedom of choice,
Stilled the sound of an innocent voice.

God never dreamed that He did not give
The safest of places for the unborn to live.


Look at the intricate thought processes in Gary the poet. He seeks to write a poem that would cover not only the western world but also the entire humanity when he deliberately moves from he to she while referring to the unborn baby. The feticide and infanticide of a girl child is socially approved in nations around the world for economic and cultural reasons. In the western world, however, feticide is done to have greater "freedom" so that the child to be born would not interfere and curtail the "freedom" of the couple or the individual. Gary also focuses on the point that the murder of the unborn is a collaborative effort. There is no accusation, only a description of reality with a heavy heart. The safest of places for the unborn turns out to be least safe place!

Poetic irony, play on words, suggestive power of the lines, a call to mourn for the father who would never be a daddy, the mother who prefers freedom of choice over her own child, the father and mother in an unholy alliance, and the social mores that approve human slaughter come to crowd our thinking. Amidst all of it, we are reminded of the birth of Jesus and the whole world, including the father and mother painted here, rejoicing on that day in a materialistic world. Is it a lullabye for the unborn, or is it a sarcastic lullabye for our already sleeping conscience? A sad story, indeed.


In these days of fast food culture and heavy metal music, the relationship between theology and hymns and songs seems to assume strange functions. People tend to pick up their strands of theology from the songs they come across and sing. People do not have time to reflect and seek the revelation of God in a disciplined way. Nice, soft, and attractive packaging is always welcome, but packaging alone is not the most important thing in worship. Since, more than ever, songs have become a strong source of receiving theological truths, the songwriter has a greater responsibility. He or she should be anointed by the Holy Spirit, and should have a deep love for the Word of God and a deep understanding of the Word of God. He or she should submit to the discipline, not only of the songwriting art, but also to the revealed expositions of the servants of God, even as they exercise their own freedom. Gary's songs embody these basic virtues and more.


God's goodness to all, the consequent thankfulness and gratitude that we should have for Him as His children, and the fact that our God is Immanuel are three major dominant themes of Gary Johnson's music. He sees the transcendent God as Immanuel. He loves Him through His creation. He calls all people to be cognizant of the fact that God is at hand and if we seek Him, He will come to us.


Read this lovely piece: I hear music!

I hear music on the mountain,
I see laughter in the light,
I find quiet beauty ling'ring in the stillness of the night;
I see poetry in planets,
I take strength from ev'ry tree,
I am conscious of His presence in the surging of the sea.

I find peace upon the prairie,
I feel rhythm in the rain,
I'm reminded of His goodness in the waving golden grain;
I see courage in a blossom,
Find design in ev'ry leaf,
I can trace His loving kindness, even in the hour of grief.

I see freedom in a flower,
I find wisdom in the wild,
I perceive a loving Maker when I hold a newborn child;
I see mercy in a rainbow, feel His kindness in the sun,
And I'm filled with awe and wonder, when I see He's just begun.

Ev'rywhere His voice is speaking,
Ev'rywhere I hear,
On the hills or the valleys, still the Word is near;
Light that lighteth ev'ry man, of Him we clearly see.
The voice of God, alive and free!

This song is potent with so many truths and words of encouragement that when we read it or sing it, we identify ourselves with the poet and songwriter. Once a flower blossoms it is bound to wither away. And yet the blossom does not hold itself back. What courage, and what a faith in its destiny! And what does it give to its beholder! The poetic touch, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and a keen desire to get all into a genuine prayer to the Lord through worship and thanksgiving make Gary Johnson's songs a great treasure.

*** *** ***

Gary Johnson. Reminded of His Goodness.
Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN. Originally published in 1981.

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