Loving Jesus with all your heart

David Ker has posted another rant about “Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs, in this case specifically “Let My Words Be Few” by Matt Redman. (Is it something about the Mozambique air that makes David rant? At least he withdrew his one about Tutu.) In a comment in reply I threatened to write a post “Jesus really is my boyfriend!” This is that post, but I have reconsidered the title as I don’t want people to think I am female or gay.

So, is it right for Christians (male and female) to relate to God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the same way as a girl relates to her boyfriend, or a boy to his girlfriend? Is it proper to sing in worship “Jesus I am so in love with you”?

I would suggest to start with that if that is not actually an improper statement it is wrong for any Christian to criticise other Christians for choosing to worship in this way. If it is not helpful for you as an individual or for your church to worship with such words, then you are not obliged to do so, and can ask your church’s worship leader not to choose this song. But if the words are proper worship of God, and presuming that at least one person, the songwriter, found them helpful for his worship, then I really don’t think it is right for anyone to criticise or mock.

In the case of this particular song, as Ferg noted in a recent comment on this blog, Matt Redman has stated that he regrets including these particular words because of the misunderstanding they have caused. I think the remark is in this interview (thanks to Eddie for the link) (but I can’t check just at the moment as I have to be quiet after midnight).

So, to get back to the question, is it proper to sing in worship “Jesus I am so in love with you”? The starting point here must be that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts and souls, indeed with our whole beings, not just with our minds. I know that the Greek and Hebrew words used for “heart” didn’t refer to the emotions in quite the same way as “heart” often does in English. But the conclusion is inescapable that our love for God should involve our emotions as well as every other part of us. And as Jesus is God incarnate we are surely called to love him in this same way, that is, with an emotional love and not just a cerebral or a practical love.

The Old Testament image of God as the bridegroom and Israel as his bride is taken up in the New Testament with the church as the bride. In Ephesians 5:25-33 the love of a husband for his wife is seen as a reflection of Jesus’ love for the church, a love which led him to the cross. Paul doesn’t explicitly teach that wives should respond in love to their husbands (rather, he uses the controversial word often translated “submit”), but this is surely the implication of the teaching elsewhere that the church should respond with love to Jesus’ love on the cross.

The Song of Songs is a beautiful love song in which a man and a woman express their love for one another, in emotional language, even showing romanticism although that word is anachronistic. There is a long tradition in the church of applying parts of this to the love which the church should express towards God, effectively turning it into an expression of “God is my boyfriend”. Isaiah 5:1-7 is explicitly called a love song, but is in fact God addressing his people, so this gives biblical justification for using this genre of love between God and humans.

So it seems to me that Christians should feel in their hearts love towards God and Jesus – a love which I feel. Indeed I would suggest that someone who does not have any feelings of love towards God or Jesus has not really grasped what it is to be a Christian. If this is true it is surely right to express our feelings of love in singing to Jesus love songs, mirror images of the song of Isaiah 5. What better words for such a song than “Jesus I am so in love with you”?

And if our song is a love song, it will of course have what David calls “Trance-like melody… ooshy-gooshy lyrics … Repetition”, which are part of the genre of modern and ancient love songs – look at the Song of Songs, but of course we don’t know its original melody. Just as a boy and girl who are truly in love will not time their embraces, no one who has true and deep feelings of love for Jesus will want to ensure that their love song is “only four minutes long”.

I wonder, if we men restricted our expressions of love to our wives and girlfriends to four minute cerebral recitations of their character, how much would they appreciate that? Instead what they want is expression of true love from the heart, in which we indeed “let our words be few”, little more than “I am so in love with you”. And if that is how we please our human loved ones, surely that is a part of how we should show our love to our God.

11 thoughts on “Loving Jesus with all your heart

  1. Pingback: Droning, desymbolization and Christian mantra « lingamish

  2. I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand, I agree with David that the simplistic lyrics and repetition trivialize the message. Rather than repeating the same lines ad nauseum, songwriters could use additional verses to bring out the details.

    On the other hand, I think you’re right that this is a legitimate way to express our love for God. Christian mystics through the ages have understood this. John of the Cross, for example, knew how to express his love without being trivial. The fact that it makes some modern Western Christians uncomfortable says more about modern Western Christians than it does about the right way to love God.

  3. I think Bruce has said it well!

    Style of worship and the music and lyrics used in worship are so capable of causing tension between us. I guess my own leanings have moved over the years, and as I moved through my forties and now well into the next decade I have grown to appreciate afresh the depth and content, both of some ( and I emphasise some) older hymns and also a good number of contemporarty offerings. I also find I am on occaisions drawn by the more mystical and ethereal nature of a cathedral Choral Evensong. There is a time to just “be” as well as to “do”. Jesus told the Samaritan at the well that worship was to be in spirit and in truth. The traditional presbyterian groups in Scotland talk of the worship of the heart. What is on our hearts, and is it the same as the next person, or the same every day?

    Many years ago my then fellowship tried a song with the opening line “I wanna dance cos I’m so happy”. For various reasons that morning I was not very happy and dancing and I do not really go together! At the time I wished the writer would write in English!!

    Repetition is an interesting one. I recall one individual in my current Parish bemoaning this tendency in many modern songs. I happened to know they were attracted to Taize worhsip with its simple melodies and – yes you have it – repetition. I did suggest that the only real difference might be the choice of words.

    So while I personally might draw on the modern “love song” more sparingly than some would like, I do agree that it is a legitimate way to express our worship. And others who lead and plan worship have different leanings. So we do get a full variety

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  5. Peter, the issue here is iambic. Song writers like to say “I am so in love with you” because it has a beter meter than “I love you.” Trouble is “in love” is a phrase only used for infatuation not for any kind of abiding love. When I was courting my wife I said, “I’m in love with you.” But now I say, “I love you.” The difference is the permanence and depth of the emotion and relationship. I suppose one could feasibly be “in love” with Jesus. But they could just as easily fall “out of love.”

    Peter, I love you as a brother. But if I told you I was in love with you you’d probably start getting a bit nervous. It’s a bad, bad expression that needs to disappear from sacred music.

  6. Interesting thoughts, Peter. I have long been wary of the Song of Songs. And if I must teach from it (and back in the early ’90s I taught from it briefly in Hungary) I am very wary indeed of any approach to it that is not deeply gritty and earthy. OK, it can be material for marriage preparation, but an allegorical approach – that is, an approach that sees the male character in the Song of Songs as analagous to God/Jesus, and the female character as Israel/ the church – made me feel “yuch”. Wouldn’t this lead us into some arbitrary hermeneutics, I thought? And isn’t the prospect of asking the congregation to imagine Jesus as their boyfriend likely to lead to all the men leaving, and lead to a sick sentimentality, and lead to the writing of some really really bad worship songs?

    I’ve had to revise my view recently because revisiting the book, I have to admit that I find it increasingly difficult not to see some legitimacy to an allegorical view. After all, the Bible does indeed talk of us, the church, as the bride of Christ. The early Church Fathers, like the Rabbinic tradition, certainly saw an allegorical interpretation. Latimer held to this view at the Reformation. Spurgeon preached 150 sermons on it.
    And I’ve found a set of sermons from St Aldate’s, Oxford, in which Charlie Cleverly tackles the Song of Songs in a rather sane way, acknowledging both “earthy” and “allegorical” interpretations.(http://media.staldates.org.uk/downloads/597%20-%20Song%20Of%20Songs%20part%201%20_Remedy%20for%20the%20unsatisfied%20life_%20-%202005-08-21.mp3)

    As for “Jesus is my boyfriend”, here’s something Cleverly says about the issue that is making me see it in a new light:
    “Men in particular will find the allegorical reading difficult, because they have to put themselves into the skin of the bride. But then, we have by our choice of language in worship been insisting for centuries that women put themselves into men’s skins. It may do men no harm to have to reciprocate for a change.”
    So… to conclude a long comment that’s basically saying “I agree with you”, I might have to imagine I (not as an individual, but within the fellowship of the church) am Jesus’s girlfriend, after all.

  7. When I stopped backsliding in the early 80’s, I gave up the girl I had been living with and tookup with Jesus. I would come back from work, lie on my bed in my bedsit and just tell him how much I loved him and how overwhelmed I was that he loved me. His presence would fill the room and I would lie weeping with delight for long periods. He replace my girlfriend: I had “fallen in love with Him”. There was no other suitable description for the experience. 26 years on, we still have those times – it’s changed but not faded and “I’m in love with you” still seems completely appropriate.
    From what I’ve read, “falling in love” seems to have a lot to do with the excitement of the unknown and unfamiliar and an element of unreality as we idealise one another in our minds. With Jesus, he is continually exciting, too amazing to ever become over-familiar and is effortlessly ideal. If I think or talk about him, it can become jaded, but if I actually come into His presence, it’s as sweet and fresh as ever, and always will be. So,surely, it’s completely safe to “fall in love” with Jesus and David’s concern that we could “fall out of love” with him is not applicable in this singular case.

  8. … the simplistic lyrics and repetition trivialize the message. Rather than repeating the same lines ad nauseum, songwriters could use additional verses to bring out the details.

    Bruce, there is no message in these songs, and there are no details. Songs of worship are supposed to be us addressing God. There is nothing that God doesn’t know and we need to inform him of. So we don’t need to preach to him. Worship songs are not a place for worship leaders or songwriters to preach to worshippers. But sadly so much “worship” has instead become second class teaching.

    The fact that it makes some modern Western Christians uncomfortable says more about modern Western Christians than it does about the right way to love God.

    This is spot on!

    David, would that the issue were only one of metre! I agree that “in love with” is an ambiguous expression with some poor connotations. Hence Matt Redman’s reservations. But a straight “I love you” is just as ambiguous. I just read the following, originally from Walter Trobisch (quoted in “Building Relationships with God’s Love” published by Purpose Driven UK, p.26):

    You might tell a girl, ‘I love you’, but what you really mean is more or less, ‘I want to have something. I take advantage of you to satisfy my desires …’ That is the opposite of love.

    As a generalisation about what men mean when they say “I love you”, this is a bit too cynical, I hope, but it illustrates the ambiguity of “I love you”. So the songwriters can’t win.

    Andy, I am also wary of the Song of Songs. Thanks for your thoughts. I think you have visited my church when we have sung songs like this one, and haven’t walked out. I hope you can also agree that when sung in a proper context, as I hope they are there, they can be appropriate.

    Duncan, thanks for your thoughts. I think we have to accept that we can “fall out of love” with Jesus in the sense of losing that close and emotional relationship, perhaps as a result of difficulties in our lives or sin. At that point maybe some immature Christians fall away completely. Mature well taught Christians should have a faith and a love for God that is much deeper than these feelings, and so be able to persevere. But that doesn’t make the feelings bad. If anyone is not convinced, consider whether you would ban men and women from falling in love for fear that falling out of love would lead to divorce.

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