Someone coined the phrase “God is my girlfriend songs” to describe contemporary lyrics that express love to God with words that are romantic in nature. They include phrases like “embrace me,” “let me feel your touch,” etc. While this isn’t the first time in history congregational songs have been labeled as sensual (John Wesley had some problems with Charles Wesley’s lyrics at times), it’s an issue that still needs clarification.
Why does someone write songs that can be sung either to God or a human lover? The reasons vary. Perhaps the writer is simply a poor lyricist and doesn’t know any better. It might be an attempt to stretch the boundaries of poetic lyricism. It could also be an attempt to write “cross-over” songs that are applicable in Christian or secular contexts. The problem is that our relationship with God is a bit different (can you say infinitely?) from our relationships with each other. Another group bases their use of romantic imagery on the Song of Solomon – “Let me know the kisses of your mouth, let me feel your embrace.” However, there’s no indication outside of the Song of Songs that God intends us individually to sing words like these to our God and Savior. (For a more literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon as a celebration of marital romance, I encourage you to check out Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, by C.J. Mahaney).
I was happy to find pick up the latest copy of Worship Leader magazine (Nov/Dec 2005) today and find Matt Redman addressing this very topic in his article entitled “Kiss Me?” He seeks to answer the question: “Is romantic imagery appropriate in congregational expressions of worship?”
As I expected, Matt’s thoughts are humble, clear, helpful, and most importantly, biblical. He shares an experience of listening to a CD of worship songs within earshot of a non-Christian. The potential for evangelism encouraged him until a song came on with a string of romantic-sounding lyrics. As he hit the pause button he realized, “I wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, but I wasn’t one hundred percent convinced of the way we sometimes draw near to Him.” Later on, he adds, “Sometimes within the walls of the church we fall into the habit of saying or doing things we would never do if we were really in touch with the world. And yet that is really only the secondary point. The primary one is whether or not we are writing and choosing songs that are a true echo of the pattern of Scripture.”
As with most things, discernment is wiser than simply banning the use of certain words such as “beautiful” or “embrace.” However, singing or writing words to God because they “express my feelings” turns out to be a misleading standard. God cares about the words we use when we approach Him, and our words must be a “true echo of the pattern of Scripture.” Do we relate to God for who He has revealed Himself to be, or in a way that our culture finds comfortable? Do our songs describe God as He is or seek to make him more like us?
We find the balance of transcendence and immanence in Is. 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.” This verse shows us that in our desire to celebrate how God has brought us near through the cross, we can never forget that He remains exalted above all creation. He is not our girlfriend; He is our God. Our songs should never be vague about the difference. As Matt reminds us, we need to be “constantly giving thought to the ways we address our amazing God.” For He truly is amazing.
For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Beholding the Glory of God’s Supremacy by Bruce Ware
Principles of Songwriting by Stuart Townend
Choosing Songs Wisely by Bob Kauflin