Friday, October 23, 2015

Sweet Jesus

Christ Carrying The Cross - El Grecho 1580
He gets sweeter and sweeter as the days go by;
Oh what love between my Lord and I
I keep falling in love with him,
Over and over and over again.
- Pete Sanchez

An article by Kevin Emmert in the June, 2015, Christianity Today, "Jesus Has Always Been Our Boyfriend", notes that often the lyrics in modern worship songs (such as the above) are "more romantic than reverent--as if Jesus were a significant other, not the God of the universe."

Citing Lester Ruth, research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School, Emmert notes that many US evangelical hymns from as early as the 18th century have similar themes. In other words, their focus is less on reverence for the supreme God of love and justice as revealed in Jesus Christ and more on the warm feelings associated with an intimate friendship with him. When Jesus is portrayed as being about meeting our every emotional need, what is frequently lacking in newer hymns is Christ's call to take up his cross and follow him in ways that are life-transforming and world-changing.

The much loved "I Came To The Garden Alone" is an example that comes to mind, composed in 1913 by C. Austin Miles:

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Having said that, I want to be charitable about any use of "hymns or spiritual songs" that offer inspiration or comfort, and to be able to live with plenty of poetic license when it comes to how others experience and express their personal faith.

For example, when I checked on the origin of a loved hymn from my childhood, "Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus," I learned that Louisa Stead had written the lyrics in 1882 in her grief following the death of her young husband. He had just lost his life in a tragic attempt to save a drowning boy at a picnic on Long Island Sound.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

You have to appreciate any song associated with a story like that, while at the same time recognizing that most of us need more hymns that "afflict the comfortable" and not just those that "comfort the afflicted".
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