“God isn’t your boyfriend!” It doesn’t take much Googling to pick out an assortment of articles skewering intimate love songs inappropriately parading as worship. “He is the almighty God, not your lover,” the criticism goes. “Don’t trivialize our holy, incomprehensible God.”
Is it really appropriate to sing, “I could sing of your love forever” or reprise again and again, “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”? Or how about “Revelation Song” where we sing, “You are my everything and I will adore you”? And of course, the most obvious offender: please tell me we should nix the embarrassing “How He Loves Us,” where we belt out, “And I realize just how beautiful you are, and how great your affections are for me,” and then the cherry on the sundae, “And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”
Let me stand up against the pitchforked crowd in defense of the modern worship love song. That isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of songs out there that are weak theologically or that our diet of worship should be comprised primarily of love songs to God, but I do believe there is a place for us to sing love songs to God.
1) There are Many Hymns Which are Love Songs to God.
The love song to God is not a new genre. Whether singing “Just as I am, thine own to be, friend of the young, who lovest me” in “Just as I am” or “My life, my love I give to thee,” or “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,” or “Jesus the very thought of Thee, with sweetness fills my breast, or “Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me,” many a love song to God has been written through the centuries. Perhaps one of the most frequently reprised songs in my own childhood was “As the Deer” where we sang, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.” Love songs to God are not a new phenomenon.
2) Many Throughout Church History Have Written Love Letters to God.
Furthermore, a glance through the centuries reveals to us saints who have written surprisingly intimate words about their relationship with God. Saints across all theological divides have opined on the powerful and intimate love of God.
Augustine (4th century) famously said, “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
Julian of Norwich (14th century) reflected, “Therefore this is His thirst and love-longing, to have us altogether whole in Him, to His bliss…”
Thomas a Kempis (15th century) reflected that, “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.”
St. John of the Cross (16th century) reflected on his intimacy with God: “O how gently and how lovingly dost thou lie awake in the depth and centre of my soul, where thou in secret and in silence alone, as its sole Lord, abidest, not only as in Thine own house or in Thine own chamber, but also as within my own bosom, in close and intimate union.”
Jeanne Guyon (17th century) similarly encouraged, “The Soul then becomes a partaker of the ineffable communion of the Trinity, where the Father of Spirits imparts his spiritual fecundity, and makes it one Spirit with Himself.”
And John Owen (17th century) ached for communion with God: “Would a soul continually eye His everlasting tenderness and compassion… [then] it could not bear an hour’s absence from Him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with him one hour.”
3) The Bible Includes Love Songs Between God and His People.
We could still write all of this off if this intimate love language didn’t align with scripture itself. And yet, the Bible sets the bar for affectionate language between God and his people far higher than most of us have ever approached.
What is fascinating about the love language that we find in scripture is that most of the intimate language of that relationship is usually God speaking of his people, not vice versa. In other words, we should consider the intimate tone set by our loving God and respond in kind.
One of my favorite verses in scripture is found in Zephaniah 3, where the prophet tells us that God “will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love.”[i]
Isaiah similarly says that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”[ii]
In Hosea, God says of his wandering people, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her… and speak tenderly to her…”[iii]
The entirety of the book of Song of Solomon has been read by most of the church through the ages as not only a description of human love, but a description of God’s love for his bride. Try not to squirm, then, in reading the explicit sexual metaphors that fill the book.
The coup de ’tat has to be God’s description of his young bride in Ezekiel 16: “And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.”[iv]
Goodnight! Could you imagine singing that as a chorus?!
If a worship director had her congregation sing that song, she would be on churchstaffing.com within the day.
When we reflect on these passages, it’s hard to disagree with the often quoted Billy Graham adage, “The Bible is God’s love letter to us.” Of course scripture is far more than that, but it certainly is no less than that. And shouldn’t we, as the bride of Christ, reciprocate such language? What kind of bride would only respond to her husband’s wooing words with cold and dispassionate considerations of his strength and wisdom?
As someone who has squirmed through some of the love songs the church has sung through the centuries, I’m growing in my ability to speak back to my loving Savior affectionate words that reflect my love toward him and my desire to grow even closer and deeper in my love of him. I invite you to join me in discovering God’s love afresh in song and worship.
[i] Zephaniah 3:17
[ii] Isaiah 62:5
[iii] Hosea 2:14
[iv] Ezekiel 16:7-8