What Kind of Emotion?

I attempted to post this yesterday, which was Friday, but we passed the day playing games, cutting down and decorating our Christmas tree, and enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers. Definitely time well spent.

Travis Seitler asked a great question on a previous post. I’d sum up his question like this:

“Should the fact that God describes his relationship with His people as husband and wife (Is. 54:5; 62:5; Rev. 21:2) ever be reflected in the words we sing to Him?”

This is a challenging question to answer briefly, much less definitively, but here are a few thoughts.

God is infinite, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the boundaries of language are stretched to the limit as we try to relate to Him with words. “Husband and wife” is one of the ways God speaks of His relationship to us, but certainly not the only one. He is also Yahweh, Father, Shepherd, Savior, Redeemer, Rock, and Refuge. (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 89:26; 80:1; 106:21; 78:35; 42:9; 142:5). For that reason, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to language that springs from only one description of our relationship with God.

As to the husband-wife model, there is no example in Scripture of an individual speaking to God as a wife might speak to her husband (with the exception of an allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs). We are corporately the bride of Christ, not individually. Therefore, it might be appropriate for us to sing of the Savior’s love for His bride, and our love for Him, by not MY love for Jesus as my husband. In addition, the nature of our relationship with God as creature to Creator, redeemed to Redeemer, requires that we avoid language that is overtly sensual or erotic, or that makes it sound as though God were on an equal level with us.

None of that takes away from the incomprehensible, personal love of God, demonstrated in the sacrifice of his Son “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) He received the judgment we deserved, and turned rebels into God’s precious children. That love transcends any earthly definition or experience of love we can imagine.

For that reason, as I lead a congregation in worshipping God, I want to remind us of biblical truth and realities that will inspire pure, strong, and deep emotions appropriate for the God we’re worshipping. Our focus is not on intimacy, but on the One who has brought us near through his shed blood (Eph. 2:13). Therefore, I typically avoid songs that overuse words like intimate, embrace, intoxicating, etc. that our culture often associates with romantic love. We have become “intimate” with an infinite God.

I need to add that this topic requires not only wisdom and discernment, but patience and charity. Years ago I often sang a song that today I would describe as leaning to the human/sensual side. As I’ve matured (hopefully), the lyrics seem to demean God’s love rather than exalt it, by making it sound more like human love. But for a season I ignored the inconsistencies and benefited from the small amount of truth the song contained. It helps me remember that God can speak through songs with bad theology, because at times He doesn’t have much else to work with!

Finally, it’s important to realize that God receives many prayers and songs that are poorly worded because they’re offered through faith in the finished work of Christ. Our eye should always be more on Christ’s offering over against our own as we approach God. (Heb. 10:19-22) However, since words both reflect and influence relationships, we want God, not us, to ultimately determine what words we use to honor Him. (Ps. 19:14)

There’s much more that could be said, but this post is already too long. Thanks for reading.

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7 Responses to What Kind of Emotion?

  1. Scott Aniol November 26, 2005 at 7:24 PM #

    The point about being called the bride of Christ corporately but not individually was great. Thanks for that.

  2. ScottyB November 26, 2005 at 7:48 PM #

    this blog is such a blessing to church Bob thaks for doing this–i needed to be reminded of those truths about biblical emotions. I think this comes from a balance of dependance on the objective truth of the Word and the subjective experiential way the Holy Spirit applies it to us.(-im not sure if that theologically sound?-lol) If it’s one or the other-either “strange fire” or dead orthodoxy occurs.

    I always think of Jonathan Edwards in the Religious Affections who said he wanted to raise the affections of his hearers for Christ as high as he possibly could.

    Scott

  3. Brittany G November 26, 2005 at 10:09 PM #

    Thank you SO much for posting that. It was really funny (obviously God) but last night I was praying about that very subject. I felt God telling me to try to think of some lyrics for a song that describes the whole church as the bride of Christ. So this was very encouraging and theologically helpful.

  4. Scott Aniol November 26, 2005 at 11:59 PM #

    Scott, it’s interesting you mentioned Edward’s Religious Affections, because I’m preaching in the morning service on that subject, and specifically teaching in a Sunday School setting on Edwards.

    I was a bit uncomfortable how you expressed Edwards’ view of the affections. Edwards did not want to raise the affections as high as he could. He emphatically stated that he could not do so. To attempt to raise someone’s affection through any means would only result in raising their passions. Rather, Edwards was content to let the sovereign Ruler work as he pleased. He encouraged the faithful preaching of the word of God and prayer. And if God choses to do a “surprising work,” then that is his choice!

  5. ScottyB November 30, 2005 at 7:28 AM #

    I DEFINATELY agree with what you said Scott I was just referring to that quote below.

    “Edwards took the other side: “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.””

    http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/edwards/edwards_mind.html

  6. Debbie Janelle November 30, 2005 at 2:44 PM #

    Thank you. Very well put. Thought provoking. I don’t know that I had ever really thought of it that way and I know I have crossed that sensual line in song choice and writing in the past. Thank you for your biblical and insightful answer.

  7. Travis Seitler December 2, 2005 at 5:55 PM #

    Ignore my question to decorate a tree. Humph. Where are your priorities?! ;)

    Thanks for taking the time to address my question. Good point in making a distinction between corporate and individual lyrics! Never thought of that… so I guess you’re accomplishing your goals here, huh? =D

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