Friday, June 22, 2012

Help me, God

In my experience with the Christian contemporary music (CCM) scene, I've picked out a couple of song archetypes. There's the elementary song-as-psalm, songs expressing personal faith in and love for God, a favorite of songer-songwriters like Jeremy Camp and Matthew West (see "You Are Everything") and affecting much of Building 429's catalog. There is the high-octane, hands-in-the-air worship song, a specialty of, say, David Crowder Band and Chris Tomlin. ("Our God") There's the faith-inspired story, as Mark Schultz is known for. ("Letters from War") Casting Crowns directs many calls to action to the church, as in "If We Are the Body". The song-from-God's-perspective. ("I Am", also by Mark Schultz) The revived-and-rearranged-hymn, of which my church is so fond. There are probably more archetypes I'm forgetting, but I'm writing about one in particular that seems about as ubiquitous in CCM as the power ballad in '80s rock. That is, the help-me-God song, of which all of the aforementioned artists have made at least one (some quite a few), but of which Tenth Avenue North is the best example, with this archetype composing at least half their catalog. ("Hold My Heart" is an outstanding example).

Based on some of my previous work, you might think I am going to criticize or explain what is wrong with this archetype, or all of them, or the whole system of archetypal songs. I am not. In fact, I enjoy all of the aforementioned songs, though not as unreservedly as I used to. Help-me-God songs in fact have quite a bit of Biblical precedent in the form of the penitential Psalms, all of which are cries for help to God from a place of guilt, loneliness, darkness, or despair. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with these Psalms (or the even-darker Psalm 88), or the modern songs that are their spiritual successors or sorts. They clearly realized the truth that we are like lost, helpless sheep and God is the Good Shepherd who alone can save us and truly supply our needs.

But now I arrive at the reason for this post, which is that if in our hour of darkness we identify too much with the help-me-God songs, if we allow our broken neediness and God's all-sufficient generosity to define our relationship with Him, we run a risk of missing the Point. There's not much difference, at least for me, between fully realizing the extent of our own depravity and need for the salvation of the gospel, and making it all about our needs, and maybe our wants, and whether God is satisfying them.

I have spent most of my life suspended somewhere between the two extremes of deriving my sense of purpose and deep-seated fulfillment, what a theologian might call "justification", from the love and acceptance of those I value; and getting it from my own abilities and accomplishments. Nevermind that all of these things are from God! Putting my faith in God has been hard because I keep consciously or subconsciously expecting Him to fill me in the same way these things did, only more and better. Because of this expectation things kept getting twisted. Earnest passion for Christian community fed right into my tendency to look for meaning in others; calls to be sanctified and excel in righteousness catered to my tendency to look to myself.

All of this because I keep seeing God merely as the One who meets my (real and legitimate) needs when he is much more. Besides being the Healer of the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3), He is the Creator of all things from before the Dawn of Time (Genesis 1), the great self-existent I ΑΜ (Exodus 3:14), Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the One who veiled His glory in flesh and died for the sins of the fallen world and will be exalted to the highest place (Philippians 2:6-11), the just and the justifier (Romans 3:26), the Alpha and the Omega, the First and  the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13)! He is the author and main character of the greatest book ever written! As my pastor Steve likes to say, whatever your view of God is, it is far too small! How we diminish the Infinite Almighty when we reduce Him to a genie in a bottle who exists for the fulfillment of our wishes!

God was love and full of justice and mercy and perfect glory before the world began. It's impossible for how you happen to be feeling today to ever change this. Yes, God has promised to heal and comfort us, but to what end? So we can feel better about ourselves and be empowered to be better people and enjoy life more? For His glory, honor, and fame, which are what it has been about from the beginning. If he binds up our wounds and sets our feet back on solid rock, it's so we can make much of Him; if he leaves us in what we ask Him to take away, it's to teach us to worship Him alone, not our circumstances.

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