Friday, March 06, 2015

God of Earth and Outer Space

“God of Earth and Outer Space” was written by Thad Roberts Jr. in 1970, and included in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal. Here is the hymn.

God of earth and outer space,
God of love and God of grace,
Bless the astronauts who fly,
As they soar beyond the sky.
God who flung the stars in space,
God who set the sun ablaze,
Fling the spacecraft thru the air,
Let man know your presence there.

God of atmosphere and air,
God of life and planets bare,
Use man’s courage and his skill
As he seeks your holy will.
God of depth and God of height,
God of darkness, God of light,
As man walks in outer space,
Teach him how to walk in grace.

God of man’s exploring mind,
God of wisdom, God of time,
Launch us from complacency
To a world in need of thee.
God of power, God of might,
God of rockets firing bright.
Hearts ignite and thrust within,
Love for Christ to share with men.

God of earth and outer space,
God who guides the human race,
Guide the lives of seeking youth
In their search for heav'nly truth.
God who reigns below, above,
God of universal love,
Love that gave Nativity,
Love that gave us Calvary.

This hymn has been "nominated" by several people as "the worst" or "the stupidest" hymn ever. Greg Adkins makes fun of it in his post The Baptist Hymnal, Hymn #20, All 4 verses, standing as we sing, writing "it is pretty amazing that someone was able to write a worship song including the words 'spacecraft', 'rocket', 'astronauts', 'outerspace', and 'thrust'." David Bruce Murray, author of Murray's Encyclopedia of Southern Gospel Music, calls it the Worst…Hymn…Ever….* He writes, "For me, the clear winner is hymn #20 from the 1975 version of the Baptist Hymnal...'God Of Earth And Outer Space'." It is apparent from some comments at David Murray's blog that the problem is not just with the words, but that they clearly have a distaste for minor music. The tune is Aberystwyth written by Joseph Parry in 1879.

In contrast Jonathan Pritchett writes In defense of “God of Earth and Outer Space”. He says "Not only should this song be sang more often, but we need more songs that combine themes of faith and science, creation, the sovereignty of God and His love revealed in Jesus Christ."

David Music notes that “God of Earth and Outer Space” and two other "space" hymns were written in the late 60 and early 70s -- "the most vigorous period of America's space exploration program" and that after "manned space flight began to be de-emphasized" these "hymns about space and its exploration quickly fell out of favor." ("I Will Sing the Wondrous Story": A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America, p. 473)

While a few things about the hymn strike me as a little odd, I suspect Music's observation best captures what happened. The song seemed relevant in the early 1970s, but after that it seemed a little weird to glorify God in the realm of space exploration. But the overall tenor of the hymn doesn't strike me as anywhere near hilarious, as is portrayed by some writers on the web.

Is this the "worst hymn ever" (as Murray)? Or does it combine themes that should be sung more often (as Pritchett)? Or does it fall somewhere in the middle? What do you think? 

* Murray qualifies his selection as a "worst" category choosing from hymns that made it into a popular hymnal.

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