This past Sunday I stood in a high school theatre with dozens of people I don’t know looking up at the screen where the band was projecting the words to the songs we were singing to God:
You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down
When I get to church, the words of every song we sing confront me. And I hang on every word preached. I can’t mindlessly sing the songs. I can’t snooze through the sermon. I’m too desperate. I’m too thirsty.
So when the words to King of My Heart were on the screen Sunday, and I was singing with hot tears, “You are good.” I really meant it. I really believe Jesus is God and He is good! But when the words “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down,” came on the screen I stopped singing. I stood there with heart exposed to the Holy Spirit’s searching work and I knew I could not sing those words with honesty. Instead I uttered a prayer, “Father you know me. You know I can’t sing that. I confess I feel like you have let me down. But I know you are good. Help me to know you for who you really are.”
I think I have a pretty good understanding of the God of the Bible. I say that with much hesitation. What I know is a glimpse, a taste of an infinity of truth. I’ll spend eternity never exhausting knowing God. But I have been very blessed to have been taught by some great Bible teachers and mentors in the faith. I’ve spent many hours chewing on the Bible. I believe the Jesus I have never seen but love as revealed in the scriptures is the one and only God-Man, the Christ. My creed is the creed Christ’s historic and worldwide church has believed and proclaimed for thousands of years. So when I read words like the words written in the song we sang on Sunday I realize something is amiss. Either something’s wrong with me and my understanding of the God of the Bible or something’s wrong with those words cause I can think of 23 years of prayers unanswered that have left me feeling like God has let me down.
I’m not alone in my honest conflict with the words, “You’re never gonna let me down.”
Throughout the Bible God’s people have had to come face to face with the incongruence of the Sovereign God they believe in and the circumstances in their life.
Job had to reconcile the horror he was living through with the God he proclaimed. He felt the sovereignty of God in his boils and said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” Job 13:15
Moses questioned God when he had obediently confronted Pharaoh and was mocked and blamed for making the people he was sent by God to free work harder. “Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:22
Noemi said it was God who had emptied her. “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21
Even John the Baptist, who had looked at Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” found himself in prison and sent messengers to Jesus to ask if was really the Messiah they were all waiting for.
And there are many, many more examples.
Blessed are the un-offended
When John questioned Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ response was to point out all that he was doing. And then he added, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Was I offended at Jesus in the words, “You’re never gonna let me down?” Was I offended that Jesus had let me down by not answering my prayer the way I wanted?
The word offended sounds like scandalized in the language Jesus spoke it. skandalizō.
Blessed is the one who isn’t scandalized by me.
It means to be caused to stumble. To be caused to distrust the person you should trust.
Jesus is not a soft, yes man, who makes you feel good with positive affirmations. Jesus is the rock that many stumble over and are offended by. I stumbled over him on Sunday. And like Job, Moses, Noemi, David and John the Baptist I have a choice: leave him offended or let the mountain of truth that he is be to me a shadow in which to hide, a rock of refuge to which I flee.
Who Else Is There?
Peter and the other ragamuffin disciples of Christ tripped over him too. When Christ offered the saving truth that he had come to suffer and die broken, like bread, people were offended. Those who had thought Jesus was there to feed their appetites in the form of miraculous power couldn’t accept the idea that he had come to give life to their perishing souls in the form of a wrath-bearing substitutionary atoning sacrifice. When Jesus saw the offended folks leave he asked his chosen ones, “Are you going to leave too?” Peter- I love Peter, quick to speak and quick to trip and quick to fall Peter- opened his mouth and said words I say to Jesus not infrequently, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. And we believe and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God”
Coming face to face with the reality of who Christ really is, is something we all must and will do. What we do with who he is is the test of who we really are.
The blessed, oh how happy ones, sorrowful yet always rejoicing, are the ones who look at his sovereignty in his willing brokenness and risen power and say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” We feel let down, but we look up and we hope in him. We believe and have come to know he is the only one with the words of life. We know there is no where else to go. We see his scars. And we hear his risen promise to dwell in us and with us and we aren’t offended. We love him. We want him. By his good grace we won’t leave him.
Yes. So good.
I feel like many of these problems are because our praise songs — and our imperfect faith — contain poor theology. Like, what if we preached Good News that wasn't about us but rather the Kingdom of God? Then, rather than wrestling through feelings like God was letting us down every time we didn't get what we want, we could continue to put our trust in Jesus and what is going on beyond us. …like, a faith in the Lord's redemptive work rather than trust in the blessings we expect as his followers.
A friend of mine recently posted a picture of Christians in the arena with lions all around with the caption: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It was, for me, a painful reminder that my view of what “never being let down” means differs dramatically from what followers of Christ have experienced every day around the world these last two thousand years.
So in these moments at church when I find I can't sing the words on the screen either, I wonder, 'Is this because of my lack of faith, or because the words up there are … wrong?'
Thanks for getting me thinking! I very much appreciate you sharing this because I think it's important for us, as followers of Christ, to work through this stuff.
Thanks Luke! Totally agree with what you've written. It's so true that “never gonna let me down” is true of our relationship with Christ for eternity, but the idea that means prosperity or getting the things we want in life slips into our thinking so easily. It's the right picture that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and that will look like lions and trials and trouble all around. He is conforming us to his image. And he will complete that which he has begun in us. And in that sense he will never let us down. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments!