Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jesus is not your Girlfriend

Jonathan Dodson at Resurgence offers a great post about why many songs about God's love miss the mark.

So many of the songs about God’s love currently being written and sung are cheap. They are mushy with no substance. Like milk-bloated cereal, they drip with emotion but fall flat on substance. Such cheap love songs act like God is our cosmic girlfriend.

God is not a girlfriend; God is God.

Cheap love songs typically talk about how great God’s love is for us. They fail to consider how God’s great love becomes great for us. Biblically, we know no great Godly love apart from an angry God. If God was not angry, he would be a bad lover. If he didn’t grow wrathful over idolatry, murder, lying, jealousy, gossip, and sleeping around, then his love would be cheap.

But God stands up for himself, for his infinite glory and beauty, and says, “I will not be abused. Those who treat me poorly must suffer the consequences of failing to honor the God who is infinitely honorable.” And so he pours out his righteous wrath and anger by putting to death his enemies or by putting to death his own Son.

Because God is angry and just, his love is deeper than we will ever fully comprehend.

In order to understand God’s love, we must understand his anger. God’s anger inevitably leads us to the cross, where justice and mercy meet in perfect, soul-wrenching, Christ-crushing, sin-forgiving, life-giving, love-flowing harmony. For those that hope in Jesus, the anger of God against our unrighteousness is mercifully diverted from us onto His beloved Son. As a result, God preserves and promotes his justice and humanity’s joy where anger and love converge—at the cross.

The purpose of God’s anger is to display the depth and character of his eternal justice and his love for us. When we understand that God’s love is God’s because of his justice and anger, only then can we begin to comprehend how great a love he has for us.

So how do we write worship songs that speak of God’s great love, not cheap love? Three suggestions:

  1. Contrast God’s great love with his great wrath. The more we see God’s just wrath, the more we see how great his love is to save us (“a wretch like me”).
  2. Show how God’s love is ours in the death of his Son. Text after biblical text ties God’s unfailing love to the sacrifice of his Son.
  3. Articulate the greatness of God’s love alongside the magnitude of his glory. Reveal that God’s love is just one aspect of God’s many-splendored glory.

  • 8 comments:

    Tom 1st said...

    So you want them to write a Calvinist love son?....ha! It seems most of CCM are not Calvinist, so I foresee that as a problem.

    I would challenge your reduction of love to one aspect of God's many faceted glory. I simply do not see the Bible describing it that way. That's really, to me, a Piper-ish kind of reductionism that I have been repeatedly told is biblical, but I've seen no proof of it in the Bible.

    Not that glory is not important! Surely it is. I just don't see the reduction of other attributes, namely love, to glory.

    But in the end, you are right. Most Christian love songs are cheap and theologically incapable.

    Tim Faulted said...

    I do not think Jonathan meant to say that love is subordinate to God's Glory, but rather, that love is just one attribute of God, and must be balanced with his anger, glory, wrath, and sacrifice of his son, so we get a more full picture. He said "Reveal that God’s love is just one aspect of God’s many-splendored glory." Not "Reveal that God’s love must be reduced to only His glory." I think that is an important distinction.

    Tom 1st said...

    I guess the wording is still confusing to me, b/c it still seems like he's reducing everything to glory.

    That said, know him and I don't so I'll take your word for it.

    But the main point of my response was that he is right - Christian music is often atrocious, even when it is lyrically sound; it's often barely able to call itself art.

    Sam said...

    Not to delineate too far from the subject of music in worship, but I would say that God's love is subordinate to glory because God's glory is "infinite beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections" (courtesy of Piper -I'm sure you'll appreciate that Tom). So, if you see God's glory as the display of His perfect love, mercy, compassion, justice, righteousness and holiness, then one of those parts is indeed subordinate to the whole. That's just a side for you though.

    Tom 1st said...

    I guess that's the difference between a Calvinist and an Arminian.

    I don't see that assertion in scripture. God is Love - that is His defining characteristic. I know that probably doesn't sound all that 'sovereign' or 'masculine' in a reactionary SBC culture (I'm not accusing you of that, I'm merely making a broader observation!), but it's true nonetheless.

    There is no scriptural warrant for subordinating anything, especially love, to glory. Holy love is how the members of the Trinity relate to one another and holy love is what the trinity invites us into.

    But again, that's the difference btwn a Calvinist and an Arminian.

    PS - please don't misunderstand - I do think glory is important!

    Jason said...

    Thanks for the link to the Collective. Stryper rocks!

    Sam said...

    Tom-sorry it's taken me so long to respond to your comment. I'm glad it's taken me a while though because it's helped me to stop and reflect. At first I was about to react to the statement that love is God's defining characteristic. My thought was, "Many verses speak about God's love, but only one says 'God IS love' (1 Jn 4:8). What about the verses that say 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord'?" But then I thought about how Jesus said in John 13:34 that by our love for one another all men will know we are disciples; love should be OUR defining characteristic. And yet, without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). And yet, I agree, love must be God's defining characteristic.

    But what about that love and what about that passage "God is love"? Two verses later, 1 John 4:10, it says "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." We know God's love because we see the sacrifice of His own Son so that His holy wrath, His righteous anger against sin could be "propitiated" or appeased. I think that's the whole issue of the post. "God is love and God loves! Let us sing! But without talking about His holiness, our sinfulness and His righteousness; without singing about the horrible suffering of the Cross, we make love cheap. I think that's the point, or at least that's my beef with many contemporary worship songs.

    Tom 1st said...

    Sam,
    Truthfully, I have no beef w/ what you're saying. I agree that there are shallow, stupid worship songs that do not talk about God's holiness as they should - or when they do, they water it down. So, you've go not argument from me (or any real Arminian) on that.

    By beef wasn't with Tim's assesment of worship songs, my questions came about how he defines a good worship song - as it seemed to be around whether espoused Reformed theological positions. I guess I just see many great songs that aren't at all Reformed...after all, not everyone can be Derek Webb :)

    Cheers brother. Hope everyone's Christmas went well.