Survey the landscape of American Christianity on any given Sunday and you’ll find plenty of evidence that God is on the throne, we’re walking in victory, and Satan’s utterly crushed. There are lots of praise choruses about our victory and God’s goodness, along with clapping and shouting “praise the Lord”. It’s the winning team for certain, at least if noise and bravado is any indicator.
Unfortunately, it’s not. Have you seen the movies from the Youth Rallies during the reign of the Reich? The singing and enthusiasm would make most Pentecostals appear as stoic Lutherans in comparison. Singing slogans about victory doesn’t make them true, and the sad fact of the matter is that for many of the people singing, the words of victory ring hollow to them. They sing about triumph over sin, but are mired in addiction. They sing about God’s power in the world, while their spouse is in the last stages of cancer. They sing about peace, while their neighbor’s kid lost his leg in Iraq. For millions the words, if the singers stop to ponder them, seem hollow at best, perhaps even a lie.
I’ll go on record as being for praise music. I like it, and play it on my ipod sometimes in the car when I’m driving alone. But if the Psalms offers the full range of emotions, I’m wondering if it doesn’t also offer a decent example of the proper proportion between praise and lament. If it does, then we’re way too heavy on the praise side of things. By minimizing lament, we’re teaching people to process the real world in a different way than the saints who’ve gone before us, teaching them to plaster over their grief with a dose of loud singing, or snappy ‘feel good’ songs. The distance between these pleasant tunes and the emotions of a heart that’s broken, or fearful, is large enough to stretch someone’s faith to the breaking point.
In contrast, a look at church history shows us that those who take their complaints, fears, failures, and doubts to God, will find real answers, real transformation. Abraham: “What will you give me, since I’m childless?“, Moses: “...please kill me at once“, David, “How long O Lord?”, Paul, “we despaired even of life.” I could go on with Jeremiah, Job, John the Baptist, and many more, but you get the point. For every dance on the far side of the Red Sea, there’s a question, a weariness, a complaint. There are, to hearken back to this past Sunday’s teaching, honest to God questions and struggles, wrestlings that in the end might well leave us wrung out, but intimate.
The problem is that few were told about the ‘wrung out’ part when they came to faith. This is because too often we’ve sold people on some sort of hybrid Jesus. There’s the real Jesus part having to do with his death on the cross and then there’s Jesus CEO, enabling us to climb the success leader, or Jesus Therapist, assuring us of successful marriages, or Jesus CFO, assuring us of wealth, Dr. Jesus, assuring us of great health, or Jesus military commander, protecting us from IED’s. These ‘add ons’ speak more to our desires for health, wealth, and happiness than our calling as disciples, because the reality is that stuff happens – to Christians.
When it does, I hope the struggling saints don’t walk into a worship service three weeks in a row without hearing, somewhere in the gathering, that those who mourn are blessed, or a song of longing, or a prayer of waiting and crying out. Lacking that, they’ll eventually presume that this well dressed, clear eyed, upwardly mobile Jesus doesn’t have much to say to them. They’d be right, but they’d only be rejecting the success Jesus of American dreams. The real one was called the man of sorrows. I just hope there’s still room for him in church.
I welcome your thoughts.