Lately, the music which has brought me to the point of worship has consisted of a lot of Les Miserables and Leonard Cohen’s famous Hallelujah… some songs by Fun. have elicited worship from my spirit, as has the music of Coldplay. Mumford & Sons is pretty much pure worship for me. But it’s been a little while since a song on a Sunday morning has engaged me in worship.
To be sure, this says infinitely more about the state of my spirit and where I’m at in my journey with Christ than it does of any of the musicians who lead worship music in our church. They do a tremendous job and have passionate hearts for worship. I’m just in a different place at the moment. A place where I have a need to explore emotions and ideas that “worship music” can’t go. Or doesn’t, most of the time. Worship music used to go there, thousands of years ago. Like Psalm 80, which is a worship song of despair. Asking God where he is, begging God not to forget people who are suffering. Angrily questioning why he is allowing pain. Why he is ignoring the prayers of his people, why he has “fed them with the bread of tears” and “made them drink tears by the bowlful.”
I am trying to imagine singing those words in a church service, and I just cannot fathom it.
Maybe if we had music like that to sing together — “Please return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” — we would have a deeper way to interact with and acknowledge pain. Maybe we would be more whole, as we understand a bit more of the totality of God — and the totality of our experience following him.
But I say all of that to say this: last Sunday there was a song that did resonate in my soul. Strangely enough, it was a very traditional tune by Hillsong called “Forever Reign.” Even the title sounds churchy, doesn’t it? But the second verse resonated at deep levels in my soul:
You are peace, you are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, you are true
Even in my wandering
After singing that, I pretty much ignored the rest of the song. I couldn’t tell you how it goes. But I can sing this verse over and over again.
Why is it so great? Because it reminds me of the bigness of God. It reminds me that as I wander and explore and ask questions and experience doubt and cannot force myself to settle for easy answers, that God is true. It reminds me that my wandering does not alter who God is.
There is a small but incredibly vocal group of people who loudly warn folks like me — those of us who explore the rough and rocky ground rather than being content to sit in the middle of the meadow — they warn us that our questions will lead to a slippery slope. That we will find ourselves abandoning truth and God and faith and everything good. They warn us to stay within the comfortable confines of conservative evangelical orthodoxy, to not press the boundaries of that orthodoxy. They warn us not to start questioning things like heaven and hell, salvation, gender roles, God’s sovereignty, inspiration of Scripture and the like, lest our faith begin unraveling in unsustainable strands, blown about in the wind until nothing remains but tiny remnants of what once was.
To them, I offer the lyrics of this song: God is true. God is true, even in my wandering. God is what I am tethered to, not any particular or specific belief system. God is what remains true, even in the midst of the most relentless barrage of questioning and doubts anyone, myself included, can hurl at him. God is who remains God. By wandering, I am not losing sight of him. That is impossible; he is everywhere. By wandering, I am discovering that he is hidden and alive and active in unexpected places.
In wandering, I am learning that he is true. He is true, even in the questioning. He is true, even in the attempts to shackle him with systematic theology. He is true, and I can never escape him because he is God.