By Bella Gamboa, Jonathan Edwards ’22. Bella in majoring in Humanities.
Even in times when I feel farthest from God, hymns have had a singular ability to remind me of who He is and of his presence. The value of song has clear Biblical precedent, particularly in the Psalms (which themselves were designed to be sung!). The psalmist frequently presents song as an imperative part of a relationship with God, such as in Psalm 98:4-5: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” Praise to God overflows in song, and so singing also reminds us of who we are in Him and how we ought to relate to Him. With all that in mind, what follows is a brief meditation on several verses from one of my favorite hymns, “Be Thou My Vision.”
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light
God’s presence at the center of one’s life is essential to the Christian life; He is not to be kept on the periphery, relevant only at certain times or in certain spheres, but He is intended to always be central. He ought to be primary in our sight, what we see and look to above all. And when God occupies His appropriate place in our lives, He, in His overwhelming greatness and perfection, is sufficient for us and our needs. This verse recalls Paul, who said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). God is incomprehensibly, indescribably superior to anything else.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one
As undergraduates, we seem to endlessly pursue knowledge; whether compelled or enthused, we accrue information and skills in various classes, extracurriculars, and conversations with our peers. And knowledge is certainly valuable, but we must be careful to put the quest for it in context — the Bible makes a distinction between different sorts of wisdom or knowledge. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus thanks God that “‘[He has] hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.’” Here, Jesus refers to the inability of his learned, worldly wise contemporaries, like the Pharisees, to appreciate who He is, while children can grasp it. Yalies certainly occupy a position similar to that of “‘the wise and understanding’” — we know a great deal about coding, or carbon compounds, or Caravaggio. But true, Godly wisdom does not lie in these things, as “Be Thou My Vision” reminds us; indeed, David might call the wise of Matthew fools, for the “fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). God himself is our wisdom. Knowing him provides deeper, truer fulfillment and wisdom than knowing all the material for any course. Furthermore, we have the opportunity for continual companionship with God, as he is our Father, and, through the Holy Spirit, he dwells within us. This continual presence enables God to be our vision and our wisdom, for he is unwaveringly present.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art
This verse is somewhat intimidating to me — I certainly value and hang onto the praise of my professors and peers, and could hardly say that I treat it as if it is “empty.” But, as with Paul in Philippians, the hymn’s dismissal of earthly standards, of wealth and repute, are not arbitrary or melancholy. These are not inherently bad things, but they are so insignificant because God is so much greater. When He is first in our hearts and central in our sight, we have no need for worldly, and almost inevitably disappointing, means of raising ourselves up.
He alone is our Father, our Treasure, and our King, and He is eternally deserving of our song — let us join as the “heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).