After tackling Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” in early May, on to #2! CCLI’s #2 song is Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name,” co-written by Matt’s wife, Beth (at least I assume it’s his wife). Lyrics can be found here. This song won the 2005 Dove Award for Worship Song of the Year.
The biblical usage of the word “bless” has many nuances, so people could probably interpret the frequent use of the word in this song differently. When God blesses man, he bestows strength and help to them. When man blesses God, he doesn’t add or help God in any way since God is utterly self-sufficient (Piper, Van Til). John Piper writes that “to bless God means to recognize his great richness, strength, and gracious bounty and to express our gratitude and delight in seeing and experiencing it.” So when man blesses God, as in this song, it means to praise the name of the Lord as holy, sovereign, and all-powerful out of humble reliance, gratitude, and reverence.
But what does it mean to bless the name of the Lord in distinction from blessing the Lord? My quick, incomplete answer is that the names of the Lord are synonymous with who he is. God has revealed himself to us in his word with dozens of names, all of which describe aspects of his being and attributes. To bless the name of the Lord is to bless the Lord (see Psalm 96, 103, 113, 145). That said, on to the review.
I appreciate Redman’s concern of blessing the Lord at all times – in good and bad, in plentiful, abundant times and also in times of suffering and pain. Job 1 springs to mind, wherein Job experiences excruciating suffering, pain, and loss, but still falls on the ground and worships: “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (vv. 20-21).
It’s easier to bless the Lord when times are good or normal. But how easy is it to bless the Lord in times of suffering, pain, and loss? I don’t know about you, but in tough times, it’s very difficult for me to be like Job or David and praise the Lord. This song is a good reminder of the necessity of praising the Lord at all times: “When I’m found in the desert place // Though I walk through the wilderness // Blessed be your name…On the road marked with suffering // Though there’s pain in the offering // Blessed be your name.” As an aside, I have to admit that I have no idea what the phrase “pain in the offering” means. Is it a Chris Tomlin-esque technique of throwing in a random phrase that happens to rhyme?
As far as the music of the song goes, it’s a simple, singable melody, with the standard “praise song” formula of slower tempo and lower range in the verses, building to a climactic chorus and bridge. Standard isn’t bad, but it’s also not earth-shattering. Also, like “How Great is Our God,” this song makes it nearly impossible for the average person to sing harmony without printed musical notation.
Not as good:
Probably the biggest negative with this song for me is its repetitiveness. A version of the phrase “blessed be the name of the Lord” appears more than 20 times in this song. To compare, in the 22-verse Psalm 103, the phrase appears a whopping seven times, with the rest of the psalm filled with the psalmist explaining why he is blessing the Lord. The nine-verse Psalm 113 has the phrase five times. The 21-verse Psalm 145 has the phrase about nine times. While it’s a good phrase, repeating it more than 20 times in one song containing two verses, a chorus, and a bridge is overly repetitive, pushes the boundaries of the tedious, and weakens the potency of the phrase. This tendency toward over-repetitiveness is a tiresome trend in contemporary Christian music, and I have a hunch I will repeat this complaint throughout the reviews of the top 25.
Another characteristic of this song is that it contains many words and rehearses some solid themes, and yet overall it doesn’t say much. There isn’t very much context for why the singer is blessing the Lord. It is just simply declarative. Why is the singer blessing the Lord? Why is the Lord worthy to be blessed? Why should other singers join in to bless the Lord? The aforementioned psalms are chock full of explanations why the psalmist and congregation is blessing the Lord. There are exactly zero mentions of this in Redman’s song. Without the contextual explanations of why the Lord is worthy to be blessed, this song is incomplete.
“My heart will choose to say // Lord, blessed be your name.” In times of the Lord taking away, how easy is it to “choose” to bless the name of the Lord? As regenerate Christians who have been given a heart of flesh and a renewed will, by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit we are able to “choose” to bless the Lord in times of suffering. But in this song, where is the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit? Where is reliance on God in times of suffering as opposed to conjuring up our own strength to bless the Lord? It could be understood as an unspoken assumption by Redman, but it’s a pretty important facet to choose to leave out.
I really like the attention to both sides of the abundance/suffering that is the reality of life. It is a refreshing change from much of the modern praise songs that focus on the happy clappy aspects of life while painting a rosy picture of the Christian walk. I’m sure Redman’s song has encouraged many who go through difficult times by reminding them of the necessity of praising God in all circumstances.
But without context or explanation of why the name of the Lord is being blessed, it is incomplete. I would argue that if it were sung in corporate worship, it should be paired with a psalm/hymn/song that fills in the blanks of why the Lord is worthy to be praised. Or, eliminate this song from corporate worship and simply substitute another song that contains adequate context or explanation.