Christianity claims a unique place among the world's religions. Our faith tells of a God before whom the strongest saints took off their shoes, bowed down, fell on their faces, repented in dust and ashes. At the same time it tells of a God who came to Earth as a baby, who showed tender mercies to children and the weak, who taught us to call him "Abba," who loved and was loved. God is both transcendent and immanent, the theologians say. God inspires at once awe and love, fear and friendship.
To most moderns, however, a sense of awe comes with the greatest difficulty. We have domesticated angels into stuffed toys and Christmas ornaments, made cartoons of St. Peter at the gate of heaven, tamed the phenomenon of Easter with bunny rabbits, and substituted for the awe of shepherds and wise men cute elves and a jolly man dressed in red. Almighty God gets nicknames like "The Big Guy" and "The Man Upstairs."
An article in the February 2005 issue of this magazine addressed one of my pet peeves. How did it happen that the word worship became synonymous with music? For several months my church went on a hunt for a "worship pastor," and a parade of candidates auditioned with their guitars and backup groups. Some of them prayed, yes: "Lord, just, you know, really be here tonight with us, just let us know you're here." None showed much knowledge of theology, and assuredly none led us toward anything like awe. Worship today means loudly filling every space of silence.
I welcome the sense of celebration and joy apparent in much recent music. Yet I wonder what we are missing when we seek to reduce the distance between creature and Creator, a distance expressed so eloquently by Job, Isaiah, and the psalmists. John, the disciple Jesus loved, who ...