Recently I wrote a poem called ‘And this is Grace‘. On Facebook, someone commented that I could just as easily be talking about a ‘beloved partner’ than about God. I replied that much as I loved my partner, I would not use this sort of language about him. To me, the language of the poem felt more fatherly than loverly. Re-reading the poem even after the comment did not change my opinion on this.
However, I understood where the comment was coming from. The sense is that in some of our worship songs we are indulging in a ‘Jesus is my boy/girlfriend’, over-romanticising our relationship with him. I have some sympathies with this view, and understand why some people find such songs difficult to sing – sometimes I myself am among them, and find myself inwardly cringing or grumbling.
But I confess that there are other times where I feel no less than besotted with God. In these times language fails us – we borrow from the words we have, and sometimes this means that their limitations can mask the genuine holy feeling behind our intent. So although I believe lyricists and poets do need to take care in using romance language in regards to religion, I also understand the fact that sometimes we are thrown back on words which may be used for other things – things that mean different things to different people.
I can recall a song which has the lyric “I’m going all the way with you”. It’s talking about commitment to God, about enduring to the end, of throwing everything in with him. But every time I hear the phrase ‘going all the way’ I think of sex. It was a heavily used phrase when I was a teenager – whether it is now I don’t know, but to ‘go all the way’ meant to go the whole hog – to have sex with someone. So when I hear that song, although I understand the sentiment, I struggle with the baggage attached to the phrase.
However, I believe there is an opposing issue here – the fact in so many romance and sex oriented songs, the lyricist does in fact idolise the romantic partner or even sex itself. They ascribe a kind of satisfaction (another troublesome word) and fulfilment which is not really ‘human’. The be-all and end-all is finding the ‘love of your life’, the knight in shining armour, the person who’ll love you as you are, grow old with you, meet your every need.
It’s that last thing where the problem really lies. How can any human being fully meet the needs of another? We are only human, after all. We have weaknesses, bad days, selfish and grumpy moments, weariness etc., etc. We are not strong enough to carry each other continually. We’re just not strong enough. We can never be the ‘perfect’ partner.
So although I understand the issues surrounding using romantic language about God and the discomfort this can create, I also see the problem of using God-language about romance.
I’ve certainly heard romantic songs use salvation vocabulary.
And in my opinion, only God can save.