MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” Should Not Be Used As a Mass Worship Song

This post stems out of a Facebook discussion, that itself came out of a “30 Day Song Challenge,” whereunto I listed I Can Only Imagine by Christian band MercyMe as Day #2’s “Least Favorite Song” —

30 Day Song Challenge – Day 2 – Least Favorite Song – “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. I hate this song because it amounts to saying, “He’s Purely Imaginary..” plus the guy singing it strains like he’s got a whole Sunday school class of kids to drop off at the pool. I’ve walked out of services that play this song as part of their set.

The flack came from a few, with retorts like, “I think you are taking the word “imagine” in the wrong way. He’s not saying imaginary. It’s a word used like I’m dreaming about or thinking about what heaven would be like,” and “It has nothing to do with ‘imaginary’.”

However —

It’s obvious that he means, “I can only imagine” to the effect of, “I’m so amazed, that I struggle to grasp its enormity,” in the same way that, “I can’t wait” doesn’t necessarily refer to an actual inability to wait but instead indicates eagerness or impatience.. but it is very poorly worded I think. If he’d simply said, “I can hardly imagine,” I’d probably have less issue with it.

The suggestion to imagine things of that nature, or concoct scenarios (with fondness) is borderline graven image territory. To create a self-made imagined event about how it might happen, creates the opportunity for people to become attached to an idea of might-be’s that turn into should-be’s and spread around as will-be’s when there’s clearly no scriptural evidence to back it, but since the speaker was trusted or believed to have spiritual insight, the purely invented idea permeates (such as going to heaven immediately upon dying, as said at many funerals). Simply not imagining it would be the best practice. Just wait and see. Don’t develop pet scenarios, or set the bait for even the possibility of returning fondly to a concocted image of how it will be one day. Be eager, sure, but just wait for it. I think even the slightest encouragement to start dreaming up how it might be is a terrible idea.

But, the verbal strain seems to remain uncontested, though — It’s one of the main reasons I could scarcely tolerate First Baptist’s contemporary worship service, as their original singer had a straining singing voice, as if he had a stone the size of a mustard seed. Total mood killer. My worship experience seizes like a poorly lubricated engine when this song comes up.

The ready availability of the “His Existence Is Purely Imagination” interpretation as something non’s could improperly interpret, should have been a giant red flag in the album’s keep/toss decision-making process. It’s as if MercyMe failed to present the song’s concept to people who could detect such disagreement with the song’s literal falsity, but instead went with the yes-men to get it approved because of popularity.

To use the song in a vaguely-canonical way as with worship services — whereas it would seem that the song had the potential for passing a review process to ensure that songs sung didn’t cross into extra- or anti-canonical subject matter — further intensifies why I dislike this song sung in worship services.

While I can often be found to argue that the meaning of language is according to its speaker original intent, rather than the meaning its interpreters guess that the speaker intended to say — such as a compliment being improperly interpreted as an insult, and sticking with the insulted interpretation despite knowing it was actually instead genuinely a compliment requiring the adjustment of one’s feelings to reflect the original false interpretation — I think the review process of “Should we use this as a worship song?” groundwork is a suitable buffer designed to hinder misunderstandings.

The song, “Necrotizing Fasciitis” by Becoming The Archetype has been widely misinterpreted by other believers who are of the sort to reckon the style of music itself, while technically dissimilar, is un-Christian in both style and message. The idea is that Christ should overtake our “selves” and aggressively eat away the will of our own flesh so that His will might be accomplished, but the style and approach seems by many to be counter-worship. I would not suggest it (“I Can Only Imagine,” as well as “Necrotizing Fascitis“) as a mass-worship song, but instead used as a private worship where such widespread dissention could not flourish.

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