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What John Legend and Beyonce teach us about loving God
I think it’s conceivable that how many of us think about God is a holdover from how he is portrayed in the Old Testament. We serve and submit to a mighty, all-powerful, unchanging God. God is sovereign and huge. Much of the time, our awesome God is how we relate to him. In fact, we can barely sing love songs to him. Rather, we sing songs that praise him, or songs that declare how great he is. Obviously praise and declarative songs have a place, but I’m afraid we might miss an intimate connection with Jesus if we rely too heavily on them.
Check out this song—it’s the perfect case in point.
Someone called it the greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period in German history. Although we may not be conscious about how a declarative song like this distances us from God, I want us to consider the possibility at least.
The opening stanza tells us how mighty God is; a fortification protects us from the evil one, our ancient foe armed with cruel hate. The writer is setting up a cosmic battle, that Jesus must and will win.
He concludes with the idea that we need to let go of everything to follow God, even our bodies. Because after we die, God’s truth, personified in Jesus Christ, exists. His kingdom is forever.
I think there is a time and place for a song like this. But the dynamic it creates may be a God with whom we are not intimate.
Martin Luther, perhaps the most influential person on all of Christianity (save for maybe St. Augustine), wrote this song. He advocated for getting the church off of its infallible and authoritative high horse, but created another problem: he made God as removed from us as the church was. It isn’t that he spoke untruths about God, but perhaps his problem is that he was just talking about those truths. Even in this short song, knowing God’s “truth” was paramount. “We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.”
We win the battle because we are on the side of the truth. That’s still true for me, and I pretty much believe every line of this song. But I want to be more than that. I want to have an intimate relationship with Jesus.
And when I think about intimacy, I think about love songs, not military songs. I actually want to sing a love song to Jesus. And I think Jesus wants to sing a love song to us.
We have a void in our lives that is fulfilled by a lover. Many of us try to fill this void with a relationship, and I think a successful marriage, or a happy friendship, or a good family goes a long way to helping us attach with Jesus, but I think an intimate relationship with Jesus is the kind that we should be striving for.
I’m just picking out two of the most popular love songs this year, and I want you think about how you can relate to God using them. Especially to the kind of militaristic hymn we just considered.
Don’t you think this song could apply to your relationship with God? It’s not a perfect match, and you’re not even sure who he is talking to who. But the emotion is just like we should have when we relate to God and He us, actually. There’s something that might make you hesitant about this, but I think it is worth exploring what that is and it matters.
You might know this one too.
It’s not perfect, but it is amazing what these people are trying to do with their lovers. “I’ll give you everything” Beyoncé shares. It makes sense. People want that kind of intimacy, and when they are a part of church, what they can get is “a mighty fortress is our God.” That’s fine, but when I hear John Legend singing, “I’ll give my all to you / You’re my end and my beginning” it is clear that people want connection.
I think that motivates me to help people follow Jesus intimately. I want to be in love with Jesus. That language is romanticized and even sexualized that it so hard for us to get into it. But the erotic poetry of scripture doesn’t assume an over-sexualized culture is receiving it, and so it is not tame in its explicitness. If it was hard for you to you to relate to John Legend and Beyoncé, try out Song of Solomon.
God is showing us how to have a healthy relationship with him that’s intimate. You could say God doesn’t want you to relate to anyone the way that you relate to him. He wants an exclusive relationship. Which the nation of Israel didn’t always have, nor do we. The Lord is communicating with the nation of Israel, his allegorical and future spouse. I love seeing God as not just a friend, but also in the way he relates to his church, as someone who is deeply in love.
The main thing I want to point out is how unashamed these lovers are of their love for each other. I’m unsure whether we share that unbridled enthusiasm toward each other in the body of Christ.
Our egos get in the way. Our insecurities get in the way. We blame our friends and family for their inability to love us so we can’t love God. We are guided, led, and dominated by emotionless people—men, primarily, who wouldn’t dare wish their fragrance was spread everywhere. I don’t think that our tendency is to be too militaristic, but we may tend toward emphasizing and even glorifying our suffering. We also might have a tendency toward not being cheesy. Beyoncé and John Legend might be acceptable to some of our aesthetic, but if it gets too cheesy, we are embarrassed. I personally don’t think cheesy is a bad thing, but we might be more concerned with being hip, then saying something like: “You are altogether beautiful, my darling.” Can we resist those things, which I think stand in the way of swimming in the ocean of God’s depth?
I think we can! We can snuggle in his breast. We can cuddle with him. Connect with him in a way that is often reserved for romantic relationships.
The main reason we are striving for an intimate relationship with Jesus isn’t just to have a balanced spirituality, but because the world is longing for an intimate connection that can only be satisfied in God. There are lots of other things our culture longs for that I think we need to emphasize, but at least one of them, and I think what could be our blindspot, is our romantic one.
Unlock the romance you can have with God. Try writing a gushy love song to him. Try using music that is romantic to worship God, expropriating it as you can. Use a candle when you pray. Turn off the lights. Play jazz music. Self-talk happy and romantic thoughts about what you think of God and what he thinks of you. Pray playfully and out loud.
Our friends and family cannot handle our endless demands, even if they try for long enough. But let’s see if God can’t fill it up.