By Kyle Sigmon
As Paul McCartney once pointed out, "Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs," but should the church really be a place for that sort of thing? Some have criticized contemporary worship music by calling it, "Jesus as my boyfriend" music. Is it strange to sing love songs to God? Or can we learn something about the nature of God even from a schmaltzy worship song?
As we explore a few worship songs, it is wise to remember that language is always limiting, especially when dealing with the topic of God and God's love. For example, we only have one word for love in our English language, but there are over six in Greek. This leads to feeling a little strange singing about our love for God, God loving us, or about how we are to love others if we are hearing love in an erotic way. But since we have to work with the language we have, we end up singing songs like these:
"How He Loves" by John Mark McMillan - This song begins with the words, "He is jealous for me…" Is God really jealous for us in the same way that we were jealous of our high school crush's boyfriend or girlfriend? Doesn't that make God petty? Well, this language comes from Moses' teachings to a newly freed people to stop worshipping idols, or lesser things. While we may not see God as the jealous type, we will do well to remember that only that which is Ultimate is worthy of being worshipped and adored ultimately. It is an invitation to do away with worshipping things that never satisfy and to realize that the source of all things has gracefully allowed you to live for that which brings ultimate joy and peace.
"In the Secret" by Andy Park - This throwback song from the 90s contains the line, "I want to touch you…" These words sound like they could be sung by a hormonal teenager looking to make it to first base or heard in a sexy music video by a pop star. I can't know the mind of the songwriter, but perhaps this desire to reach out and touch God comes from the story of Thomas who after hearing the news of Jesus being raised from the grave needed to see it with his own eyes. Jesus appears to Thomas, inviting him reach out and touch his scars. This song is perhaps an invitation to seek a personal experience of God for ourselves. Rather than just accept what we are told, we can go into the quiet place of our soul to seek and find a Presence in the stillness.
"Our Love is Loud" by David Crowder - David Crowder has long been one of my favorite worship leaders and I remember singing loudly, "We love you, Lord! We love you! We love you!" The idea of singing these words at the top of your lungs may seem like Buddy the Elf professing publicly that he's in love and doesn't care who knows! I can visualize John Cusack holding a boombox over his head to win over his girl in that one movie from the 80s. (You know, that one?) Does God really want us to repeatedly shout out our undying love in this way? We can rest assured that we never have to worry about winning over God. God's very nature is love and we can't earn something that is freely given. However, by turning toward Love we are potentially more filled with love, and not just love for God but towards everything God loves, which is the whole world. And when I say "love" there, I mean "agape," which is specifically God's love or charity/goodwill towards all things.
"Reckless Love" by Caleb Culver, Cory Asbury, and Ran Jackson - This song has been at the top of the charts for a while now, but with lines like, "...chases me down fights 'til I'm found…," some might be wondering why God sounds like a divine stalker! We might begin to feel like Rockwell – that "somebody's watching me and I have no privacy!" Is God a holy predator and we're the prey? These lyrics in "Reckless Love" are inspired by Jesus' parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. They tell the story of loss and searching to put right what was misplaced. Our lives tend to get out of sorts, but we are not left alone. Nothing can separate us from God's love, which is working to bring reconciliation to all parts of creation that are misplaced.
"Fill Me Up" by Will Reagan - I am not even going to go into the fact that a praise band member thinks it sounds like he is singing, "Feel me up." Sidestepping that comment, there is a line that says, "Love of God overflow, permeate all my soul…" This portrays God's love as some sort of water-like substance we can contain, spill, and soak up like a sponge. Poetic and artistic, but maybe a bit confusing? It may help to point out that we experience God's love today primarily through the Holy Spirit. Spirit, like water, flows and brings new life. This is a song to bring our awareness to the Spirit of God that is present and wanting to flow through us.
Again, language when it comes to God is always limited and wrapped in metaphor. We compare it to something we know, like a loving parent (used most often by Jesus and John Wesley) or the love between a covenant committed relationship. I must mention that the most erotic poetry I have ever read is a book of the Bible that has historically been interpreted as representing love between God and God's people or Christ and the church. So you'd think that some people would have had enough of silly love songs. But I look around and see it isn't so, even in the church. So what's wrong with that? Well, maybe it's only silly if it isn't taken seriously. Because this love is changing the world.
Kyle Sigmon is a musician and United Methodist pastor from Blowing Rock, North Carolina. You can find his music on Spotify and iTunes. For more a deeper of exploration of meaning and music, check out our Compass Podcast episode with Kyle--and be sure to subscribe!