I’m so thankful that I had the privilege of interviewing Michael Card, a great musician and songwriter, with the intent of translating and publishing the article in Spanish. Soon it will be available in print and hopefully online, but I wanted to make the English format available to you all as well. May it bless you as it blessed me.
Mattix: Growing-up as a missionary kid in Bolivia, I remember singing “El Shaddai” at church, which had been translated into Spanish. I had a seriously hard time figuring out what most of those words were, since many were Hebrew! It was in 1981 that you recorded this song, which then turned into one of the most recognized Christian songs of the past century. In “El Shaddai”, you deliberately included many direct quotes from Scripture, something we probably don’t see enough of in today’s Christian music. What part should Scripture, and sound interpretation of it, play into our choice of the music we sing in our churches?
Card: Historically the Bible has always been at the center of church music. There was music in the Temple service as well as in the synagogue. Jesus was surrounded by the sounds of the Bible being sung. It is very important in our worship. But notice I did not say it is the most important. The presentation of the Word in teaching I believe is still more important simply because if we are not taught what it means then we cannot sing it with understanding.
Mattix: During my studies at Emmaus Bible College several years ago, I was privileged to go to one of your concerts there. You were promoting a new album, “The Hidden Face of God” which delves into man’s struggle with suffering. I’ve always loved the parts of Scripture that speak to our suffering and sorrow, especially as we see how Christ choose the manger, the carpenter’s hammer, and the cross’ nails – all out of love for mankind. In that album you have a song named “The Silence of God”; there you speak about the deep suffering that can occur even in the life of a strong Christian. I remember almost being in tears when I imagined Christ pleading with His Father in Gethsemane, a picture you paint with your lyrics. What part do you think Biblical, sacred music can play in healing ones’ sorrow? What place has it played in your own soul?
Card: First let me say that I did not write that song, my good friend Andrew Peterson did. I believe it is one of the best modern day laments because it does such a wonderful job of connecting our experience of lament and the silence of God with Jesus’ lament in the garden.
One of the richest untapped potentials in Christian music is lament. Which is interesting since lament is so pervasive in the Bible. Lament music at its best applies the comfort of Scripture to the soul through music. Socrates said: “When the soul hears music it lets down its best guard.”
Being a musician, music has always been a tremendous source of comfort to me in those suffering moments of my life. Music lets you know that you’re not alone and when there are no words, instrumental music can still speak to your heart.
Mattix: Reading over some of your history, it’s easy to see that you are a “student for life”. You’ve studied theology, physics, astronomy; you have a doctorate in classical literature, and have become internationally-respected as a musician and song-writer. That’s inspiring! How has a wide variety of learning and experiences helped you in your relationship with God? How has it helped your song-writing?
Card: I believe studying simply gives you a larger, deeper well from which to draw. I am 58 years old now and I’m learning more than I ever have. That is very exciting to me. There is an old children’s song “This is My Father’s World.” The older I get the more fascinating my Father’s world is to me, and the more precious.
Mattix: Is there a hymn-writer in history that you most admire? Tell us a bit about their influence on your life and songwriting.
Card: I really admire Thomas Chisholm. He wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I met someone who knew him and was told he lived at the level of poverty. This is the man who wrote, “…all I have needed Thy hand hath provided.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
Mattix: Recently I was meditating on the beauty of hymns and sacred music: how it so exceeds every other type of music, since it seems to beat at the very heart-strings of our soul, leading us to worship our Maker. What do you think makes hymns so exceptional? That being said, what would you say is your favorite hymn?
Card: Classical hymns were written at a time when well educated, seasoned men and women wrote music. By far most hymns were written by two people; one who was knowledgeable in Scripture, the other usually a consummate musician. They were not written in a commercial world of CD sales and radio play. They were written for congregations who decided over decades which hymns were helpful and meaningful.
I think my favorite hymn has to be “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Three.” It is a good example of what I was talking about. The music is Beethoven, a fairly good musician. The lyrics were written by Henry van Dyke, a pastor who was also a poet and writer. I believe the line, “…hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,” is the greatest line of lyric ever written.
Mattix: In the past you have criticized the way some Christian companies have excessively capitalized on the sales of Bibles, Christian books, Christian music, etc. This is an even greater problem in Latin America – Christian material is basically inaccessible because of how the huge price tag compares to the poor wages. What do you think Jesus would say about some Christian companies that seem to pursue money as a primary goal?
Card: I think the fact that He tore up the Temple marketplace twice, at the beginning and again at the end of His ministry says it all. The fact that no one questioned why He did it is telling as well. Everyone knew why. The only question they ask is “who gave you the authority…” The whole of the Bible condemns people who try to sell spiritual things. But there is also condemnation for those who would simply try to buy them, that is, give money for spiritual gifts. Simon, in Acts 8:18 tried to give money to buy the power of the Spirit and it did not go well with him.
I love Bonhoeffer’s quote: “How could we make cheap something that cost God everything?”
Mattix: When you began to find great success in music, did you ever struggle with greed, fame, or pride?
Card: I don’t think you can say I’ve had great success. I am not denying the fact that God has chosen to bless me and some of my work. But you don’t have to have had success to struggle with greed (which I most definitely do struggle with!).
Mattix: What advice would you give to Christians who find success or are given positions of authority? How can a Christian guard himself from the pitfalls such as greed, fame, or pride?
Card: The answer is always to look to the life of Jesus. Every answer we need is there in that perfect life. Imagine, Jesus could claim equality with the Father but He chooses not to do so. Instead He comes in the form of a slave (“doulos” in Phil. 2:6-11). He washes His disciples’ feet like a slave. When Peter objects, Jesus in essence says, “If you don’t get this, you don’t get Me.” Keeping your eyes on Jesus is always the answer.
Thank you, brother Card.