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It is interesting living as a Christian in the United States. Better said, puzzling. Confusing.

A few examples.

Here in the United States, we often hear the Christian song Amazing Grace performed at secular funerals and other events. As most U.S. Christians are aware, the first lines of that song are, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” I wonder what is going through the minds of those non-believers when they sing such lyrics. They’re calling themselves wretches who were lost and now found? They were blind but now they see? What do these lyrics mean to them? I must assume the words have no meaning. Are they just pretty cultural poetry?

Another example. The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 are often read during wedding ceremonies. 1 Corinthians 13 is a very well-known passage. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). 1 Really? Speak in tongues? Tongues of angels? Many Christians, much less unbelievers, do not even believe that tongues are a legitimate Christian behavior. I just can’t imagine what goes through the minds of those who say these things. I assume that to them the words are just cultural poetry, with some kind of meaning but surely nothing literal.

I am also puzzled by the ubiquitous presence in media of Christian hymns and songs in African-American churches. The songs are wonderful, beautiful, sung by spectacular voices. They’re about Jesus. The Lord. But why are they allowed by the overwhelmingly liberal, God-denying media? I’m not sure I have ever seen the same kind of singing in the churches of other races in the United States. My answer to this puzzlement is the same: pretty cultural poetry.

And thus meaningless; meaningless in any significant way that causes us to stop and think—which is odd.

Maybe not, concerning the nature of music. We could sing any number of secular songs that have no meaning. For instance, Kesha’s stunningly sung Praying mentions God and forgiveness, but the song’s tone is defiant concerning her former lover: “And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known. I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh-oh. When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” I don’t know if someone who had had a former lover would actually mean that he or she would bring thunder or rain upon a former lover. That’s, um, a little difficult to do. Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill is a love song, well-written, but it is not different in essence from countless other love songs. One could sing it just because it’s a nice, catchy tune, but one that has no relevance to one’s life. I mean, many of us sang Hey Jude or Hotel California back in the day, songs that had no relevance to us, either. But they were fun to sing along with, right—maybe even gave us goosebumps.

Pretty cultural poetry with little meaning.

I’ve also been puzzled by the usage of this sentence. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy.” How in the world does a prayer “go out” to anyone? These words have no meaning. Why can’t the speakers simply say, “We’re praying for them?” But perhaps that has no meaning, either. I mean, if Kesha can pray for her former lover while at the same time saying that when she was done, “they won’t even know your name,” what does praying for someone mean?

So. My conclusion? I’m not entirely sure, but please allow me at least to proffer an insight. And a fear. My fear is that Christian verbiage in the culture of the United States has become meaningless. They are words with no spine to them. If you were to quote the Bible, the words are easily ignored; ancient words from an ancient book with dubious legitimacy and little relevance to the world today. The words to secular songs may have little meaning, too, but at least they move the soul. However—and it’s a big however—since Christians believe the Bible is God’s words put to paper, we are never to doubt that, when spoken, the Holy Spirit is at work, making those words real and pertinent to the listener in a way that the words of a love song never, ever will.

This culture is strong. But our sovereign God has strength that cannot be overcome.

Christians in the United States live in a puzzling, post-Christian culture. Let us push through the meaninglessness, the confusion, with God’s truth—because He is the only truth. The only One with amazing grace. The only One with true, real, eternal love, without which our words are noisy cymbals. Far from being meaningless, His meaning for life, for truth, for us, is far deeper than any song will capture.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles

 

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