Tim Challies (a blogger whose link you'll see on the righthand side of this blog) linked today to an article that I thought was very relevant to corporate worship, and very thoughtful. You may have heard me say before that we ought to avoid using romantic language in reference to our relationship to Christ, as though we are individually his lovers. John Stackhouse expands upon this idea in an insightful way, and I hope you'll be helped and challenged by it. (All of the italicized text below is quoted directly from Stackhouse's blog.)
One of the blights upon the hymnological landscape today is the continued presence of what we can fairly call the “love song to Jesus” genre. It’s been around as long as there has been Christian pop music–and even earlier, depending on what you make of sentimental gospel songs in the nineteenth century, eighteenth-century revivalist hymns, and especially a lot of the mystical poetry-cum-lyrics of certain medieval saints.
Today our congregation was asked to sing, “Jesus, I’m in love with you”–a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders’ rotation.
Well, I didn’t sing it. It’s wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics.
First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way.
Second, it gives me the homoerotic creeps to declare that I am “in love with” another man. And I don’t apologize for saying so. A gender lens is interesting here, for a lot of men feel as I do (many have told me so), while many (not all) women seem to love telling Jesus that they are in love with him. I saw them, swaying with closed eyes and waving hands in the air this morning, singing exactly that. Maybe, indeed, they are in love with Jesus. But they shouldn’t be.
For the third point to make is a theological one. Jesus is not your boyfriend, not your fiancé, and not your eventual husband.
By God’s grace, Christians get to enjoy a wide range of relationships with Jesus. We are described in the New Testament variously as Jesus’ slaves, Jesus’ servants, Jesus co-workers, Jesus’ friends, and even Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Since the plural form of each of these is used, it is correct then for me to say, “I am Jesus’ slave, servant, co-worker,” etc.
But the New Testament never calls Christians Jesus’ fiancées or his brides. Instead, it is the Church collectively, and only the Church as a whole, that relates to Jesus this way–just as individual Israelites did not relate to Yhwh as so many spouses, but only the nation of Israel as nation was his beloved bride.
So I’m not singing to Jesus that I’m in love with him, because I’m not. I love him, and I aspire to loving him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But I do not aspire to being in love with him, and I’m sure he understands.
I wish our worship leaders and songwriters did, too.