The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently elected to reject “In Christ Alone” for their next hymnal. Their committee originally chose it but wanted to replace one phrase with altered lyrics. The authors of the song determined the changes inappropriate.
Original lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied
Altered lyrics: Till on the cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified
The committee defended their conditional election to reject the song’s original phrase,
“It would do a disservice to this educational mission [of the PCUSA church] to perpetuate … the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.… The song has been removed … with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness” (Christian Century, April 2013 issue).
What? The committee loves the song’s “otherwise” poignant and powerful witness. The thing is, without the satisfaction of God’s deep anger at injustice, there is no poignant witness, and we render his love impotent. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis,
I hate leaving for trips, but I also—sometimes—hate returning. There is so much to do. There are all the things I didn’t do while away, and all the things I normally do when I’m home, and all the things my trip generates.
I returned home late last Friday night from a week long set of planning meetings. Sure enough, my “normal” things for last week didn’t get done by themselves; the planning meetings generated a huge list of terrific things to do; and I had my normal new week’s list just waiting for action.
I felt overwhelmed and weighed down, besieged by an army of action items. As I charged through my to-do list, the battle went downhill. Technology misfired, people were late, misunderstandings abounded, and phone interruptions ruled.
Instead of bleeding with a sword through my heart, I was dying of a thousand paper cuts; instead of facing the hulking, flying Nazgûl, I was surrounded by ten thousand blood-sucking mosquitoes.
I once met with a man—let’s call him Adam—who described himself as a, “recovering charismatic.” His mother fanatically—maybe frenetically—flitted from one worship experience to another; she visited Toronto, Florida, Bethel Church in California, and anywhere she heard “something” was happening.
When she wasn’t traveling to Christian conferences, worship music blared throughout the house, or her iPod (filled with worship songs) was glued to her ears. She needed the euphoric “oomph” of worship music to provide motivation for the tiniest of tasks.
However, she remained anxious, self-concerned, and perhaps narcissistic. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it seemed she really wanted escape, a place where her problems could be anesthetized.
Adam added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”
“I wonder,” he said, “if modern worship is just a cocaine rush.”
I wonder sometimes if the greatest problem facing the modern church is a lack of wonder.
When we were kids, all kinds of experiences brought wonder. Our first trip to the zoo filled us with wonder. The stick-figured, long-necked giraffe was fantastic; the bloated barrel-shaped hippopotamus was delightful (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting); and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin was wonderful.
As teenagers, we became jaded; we lost our wonder. We’d already been to the zoo. “Big deal!” We’d already learned to ride a bike. “Who cares!”
When we think about the tests of God, most of us shudder. Yet I believe that they can be a key to Hope and Joy. Let me explain.
I began flying lessons in 1997. These lessons taught me to take off and land, to navigate using aviation charts, and to communicate with air traffic control.
I particularly liked learning to land.
On my second flight, my instructor Jayne pulled the throttle to idle and announced that my engine had just died. She asked what I was going to do. Throttling her was not an option because I hadn’t yet learned to land. But I was strongly tempted.
Soon a pattern emerged. She’d kill the engine, I’d want to kill her, and we’d practice standard engine-restart procedures, and I’d look for a place to land. Then we would circle down to the landing site until Jayne said we would have made it (or not). Then she’d re-throttle the engine, we’d climb, and we’d review what I had done.
Jayne drilled the engine-out procedures so thoroughly into me that I could have done them in my sleep, though I never tried.
After the evil Witch is killed, in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Pulddleglum catches one Earthman who explains what is happening with the rest of the Earthmen:
“About an hour ago we were all going about our work—her work, I should say—sad and silent, same as we’ve done any other day for years and years. Then there came a great crash and bang. As soon as they heard it, everyone says to himself, I haven’t had a song or a dance or let off a squib for a long time; why’s that? And everyone thinks to himself, why, I must have been enchanted.”
Under enchantment, the Earthmen could not remember who they were, and they were sad and silent, burdened, without song or dance (or even a squib!). G. K. Chesterton wrote, “We are all under the same mental calamity … We have all forgotten who we really are.”
There is power in the English word “remember” but the power is best illustrated by its opposite. The opposite of remember is not merely to Forget—that is the opposite of to Recall—the opposite of remember is to Dismember. This is why the Earthmen hadn’t sung or danced, and it is why we are without joy and hope. We’ve all been dismembered, cut off.
This is Satan’s most powerful weapon; he spews forth lies to dismember us—to cut us off—from God, from each other, and from who we really are. His enchantment keeps us from remembering. Satan lies to Eve saying, “God is holding out on you; God doesn’t have your best interest at heart.” She eats the forbidden fruit, and is cut off.
As we look to the New Year, many of us make resolutions for future behavior. Maybe we’ll eat less or pray more. And many of us—like me—have failed so many past resolutions that we ignore the annual opportunity—we simply don’t want one more failure on our record.
Why have we failed to keep so many past New Year’s resolutions? Is it because we don’t desire health? Of course not. It’s because we lack the power—the persistent motivation—to pursue these desires; we lack the joy and hope. We’ve been dismembered. Satan lies to us saying, “God is holding out on us, God doesn’t have our best interest at heart.” And we go elsewhere for comfort. We forget, we are cut off from, the truth that Christ is more than we can ask or imagine; he is all we need.
For New Year’s, may I suggest this year we decide … to Remember.