Holy is the Lord, God Almighty

I’ve been thinking about how a lot of the praise songs, hymns and carols that I used to know still carry the same images and feelings as they did in the past. I’ve been wondering how this can be the case, if I’m not supposed to believe the same things I used to believe.

The answer, I think, is that ideas represented by worship songs and hymns are completely abstract. What did we mean when we said “Holy is the Lord God, Almighty?”

Think about it.

You mean that there’s this powerful, invisible God up there, somewhere (yet everywhere, all around), who is “holy,” which means “sacred,” which means… it’s kind of a self-referential definition. It relies on images and feelings of bright white lights, purity, and so on. But consider the way in which this idea of “Holy is the Lord” is expressed through music: the feelings of awesomeness, the feelings of purity, the feelings of a great unknown Presence who is of greater value than oneself. None of those thoughts and feelings are necessarily Christian. They can all be felt without a belief in the Bible. In fact, many of them can be felt with scarcely a belief in anything, except perhaps the existence of something above and beyond oneself.

It’s only songs such as those that speak directly about Jesus paying the ransom for sin–or Jesus dying on the cross–that have a visceral representation that may cease to resonate with someone who is not a Christian. However, these songs never really resonated with me. I always felt strained singing about Jesus being bloodied on the cross for my sin; not because I think it’s a gruesome or primitive idea (maybe it is primitive, but I never cared so much about that) , but because the songs are supposed to resonate with emotions and actual experiences of the world.

Thanking Jesus for forgiving my sin does not resonate with my experience of life. I never felt extremely thankful that God was willing to save me from the way he made me. I never felt like God was doing me such an unimaginable favour by killing himself for the things that he made me do.  Songs about “Jesus, you’re all I need” also never rung true with me at all. Jesus was not all I needed. Certainly the people in the room needed more than just Jesus. They needed music, community, after-church cookies and pleasant songs about how all they need is Jesus.

There was also that thing about how the quality of the music wasn’t what mattered, and the mark of a Christian was that a true Christian could worship in any setting. This always bothered me, because why did I feel so much more faithful when the music was in tune, and the structure of the song moved me? Should I not feel like that all the time? Why did I have more doubts about my faith when I was listening to old people warbling to a bumbling organist? Of course, I’m a little embarrassed at ever having tried to sweep such obvious things under the rug. Though to be fair, it seems like denying the obvious (while recognizing the subtle) is a specialty of that whole frame of mind.

Ideas about an incomprehensible God or Mystery; those can resonate with me. Hoping for things…I can understand that. Someone coming to save you from a really bad situation, that resonates with me too. Surprisingly, I find that I’m able to listen to about half of the Christian songs and anthems that I used to, and feel most of the same things that I used to feel, without even feeling inconsistent; because the emotional and mental representations of these ideas (God being invisible and all) have not changed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: