I’ve written before about how sometimes the words we sing in corporate worship are not necessarily all that well aligned with the truth that Jesus revealed about God. (For example, see this post.) While I don’t want to become a cynic who coldly analyses every song we sing, occasionally I can’t help but be struck by the seeming incongruity of a lyric or the striking emphasis of a song.
For the sake of clarity, the reason I think about such things is not that I want to be a killjoy or that I enjoy splitting hairs and making mountains out of molehills. It’s that I think what we sing as we worship really matters; in fact, I’d say very often it shapes our theology more than the teaching we hear or the books we read.
So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’ve been thinking about a particular song. At a recent church gathering we sang Chris Tomlin’s worship song Our God. It’s a fine song in many ways – in fact, it’s one that I’ve used many times in my past as a worship leader. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s a version from YouTube – play it through and have a listen to the lyrics:
Actually, my intention here is not to lay into this song and tear it apart theologically. All I want to say is that as I sang it, I was struck by its emphasis on power and victory.
You might ask, what’s wrong with power and victory? Is God not powerful? And did Jesus not secure victory at the cross? Well… yes, and yes.
But the reason I began to feel just a little uneasy about this song is that when we speak of power and victory, unless we’re very careful we can easily end up thinking about these things in the exact same way the world does: in other words, power as the exercise of brute force and victory as the forceful defeat of a weaker enemy. In short, it’s very easy to slip into a triumphalist mindset.
While it may well be appropriate to worship God for his power and thank him for his victory, we need to constantly remind ourselves that his power is the kind of power that looks like weakness to the world, and his victory is the kind of victory that looks like defeat. In fact, one could almost say that, from a natural human perspective, God’s power and victory look very much like anti-power and anti-victory… which is to say, like weakness and defeat.
I mean, Jesus might have performed some powerful miracles, but he didn’t look very powerful in other ways, did he? In fact, it seems he went out of his way to eschew power, turning it down when satan offered it to him on a plate. And he didn’t look like much of a winner when he was hanging on a Roman cross, did he?
And here’s the crucial point: this is precisely the kind of power and victory in which Jesus invites us to share. Just as he laid down power and became a servant to all, he asks us to let go of our ambition and desire for status and to live only by the “weak power” of love. And just as he prepared the way for victory by losing, making himself nothing and dying a shameful death, despised and rejected of men, he asks us to give up our relentless quest for success and fulfilment.
My worry is that, when we sing “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?”, somewhere deep in the dark corners of our soul, what we’re really thinking is that with God’s help, no one is going to stop us getting that promotion, having the biggest house, being highly esteemed at work, being seen as one of the spiritual movers and shakers… in short, being the shining success that we would all love to be.
And so, with this in mind, I took the liberty of rewriting some of Chris Tomlin’s lyrics. I don’t pretend they’re half as singable as the original, and I don’t suppose they’d go down well in many churches. But I hope they might be a little bit less prone to a triumphalist interpretation, and I wonder whether they might help us cultivate a more Christlike spirit than the original lyrics. See what you think:
(Original lyrics) (Reworked lyrics)
Water You turned into wine Lepers You touched and restored
Opened the eyes of the blind Welcomed the weak and the flawed
There’s no one like You There’s no one like You
None like You None like You
Into the darkness You shine Into the darkness You shine
Out of the ashes we rise Bid us to lay down our lives
There’s no one like You Help us be like you
None like You More like you
Our God is greater Our God is humble
Our God is stronger Our God is mercy
God, You are higher than any other God, You reach out to the poor and broken
Our God is healer Jesus the servant
Awesome in power Laying down power
Our God, our God Our God, our God
And if our God is for us And if our God is with us
Then who could ever stop us His Spirit living in us
And if our God is with us And if our God is with us
Then what could stand against We’ll never be alone
[ Image: Ministerios Cash Luna ]