Saturday, August 13, 2011
Rollins writes that "there are people who claim God is at work in the world and we can have a deep relationship with Him here and now." As many of you are aware, I am one of those people. I think that developing a living relationship with God is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Rollins, in contrast, sees it as a "world-renouncing approach to faith" because he associates it with an "addiction" to exceptional emotional experiences (in a worship service for example) which he sees as devaluing the rest of life: "[L]ife as a whole is negated, and we are left unable to fully embrace and enjoy it."
Now, I agree that charismatic worship services do have a tendency to promote this kind of hyped-up emotional experience, and as a result can lead to disillusionment and disappointment. This however reflects a broken understanding of what healthy relationships are about. Relationships are not just about good times -- all candle light dinners and feelings of bliss. Relationships are about sharing all of your life with someone -- getting to know them and letting that rub off on who you are. We hang out with Jesus, and in so doing, we become like Jesus.
This is a broken world we live in, and because of that, as Paul says, we see God "through a glass darkly." We see God in glimpses. It's true that we can over-emphasize those times of epiphany in the same way that our culture over-emphasizes romance, but that does not mean that we need to see these times as a rejection of life. Why can't they instead fill our ordinary lives with meaning and value? Maybe these times are intended to change how we see everything else, so that, as Rollins writes "the world is transfigured and rendered wonderful."
That's the way it should be, but Rollins is right to say that our "triumphalist music, confident prayers, and sermons of certainty don't necessarily reflect the beliefs of the people offering them or receiving them." The problem is not, as Rollins notes, that there is a lack of ministers who experience doubt, but that the predominant church culture does not allow them to. They are only allowed to admit struggles if they are safely in the past. That's the narrative we want to hear: I used to have a problem, but then I met Jesus and it all went away.
Wouldn't it be good for our faith if we could be real about it together? Is a Christian leader really someone who never has any struggles, or is it instead someone who can model how to deal with those real struggles of life with honesty and grace? What if worship leaders were allowed to sing songs about real struggles and doubts? Wouldn't that reflect the way we really experience our faith and our lives?
An amazing example of that is Kevin Prosch who was the personal worship leader for John Wimber. Kevin's songs have a gut wrenching honesty. Take for example these lyrics from his song Please:
I know that sometimes you winWow. Can we please sing that in church next Sunday?
But most of the time I get this feeling that I'm losing
And the cruel, cruel lessons of loneliness... I believe this must be my portion in life
If there really is a hereafter and after all
Maybe a moment of grace could bring the gates of heaven near
I wish someone could tell me, have I wept these tears in vain?
But even then... there's this loneliness
I'm totally with Rollins in wanting us to be able to be real in church, and have that honesty and depth reflected in our liturgy and sermons. But he does not stop there. Rollins does not think we can love God directly at all, because he ultimately does not believe God exists. He argues that we should "no longer approach God as an object we love. Indeed, the idea of loving God directly becomes problematic. Instead we learn that God is present in the very act of love itself." In other words, he does not believe that God is a someone who can speak to us, love us, and be known by us. Rather, God is "love" and so "belief in God" for him simply means being a loving person.
He writes that "Love does not seek out our hymns of praise and prayers of adoration. Love does not want our sacrifices or seek our time. For love always points toward the other." While I deeply disagree with this on so many levels, at the same time I have to say that if that meant that he never sang another worship song again, and never prayed again, but only focused on caring for the least and showing grace to others, I really can't imagine that Jesus would be mad at Pete for that. Because in doing that, he really is loving God.
But does that mean that we all need to stop praying? Does it mean that we need to tell Kevin Prosch to strop singing his beautiful heart-wrenching love songs to God? I hope not, because that would mean stifling the honest expression of his heart. Mine too.
I'm sympathetic to Pete when he writes that "there are numerous people who affirm the view that God can be encountered here and now, yet who experience nothing." I don't want him to fake it. I understand if he feels that he is "not getting God and feeling empty, constantly chasing God and never finding rest." I've felt that way at times too. But I have also experienced the undeniable reality of God's love in my life. I know first hand that God is real and can be known.
Let me underline here that I am not just talking about having some emotional religious experience. That alone is not a relationship. I'm talking about learning to listen to God, letting God speak into my life, changing and molding me into the image of Christ. I don't think we should lose that, and in fact, I think we need a lot more of that. I want us to be real, but that includes honestly crying out to God, both in expressing our need and doubt, and also our thankfulness and love. I would not want to lose any of that.