Why Worship Music Should Be Sadder

My pastor preached a sermon recently about how most of us are addicts to something. Food, shopping, sex, drugs, alcohol, image … etc We use these things to medicate ourselves against our pain and the realities of the world. I wonder if many of us should add our Christianity to that list.

I sent this tweet recently that got a few online bees buzzing for a moment:

“Approximately 70 percent of the Psalms are laments. Approximately 0 percent of the top 150 CCLI songs (songs sung most in churches) are laments.”

I got a lot of responses. Some said something to the effect of, “That’s sad.” Others said things like: “Why would we have to lament? We have Jesus!” Some even accused me of living in the wrong covenant.

I was actually surprised by this for some reason.

I knew that, as a whole, American Christianity has tended toward the reality-averse and narcissistic, but it was still strange to hear it so overtly in words—like hearing a teenager say, “No, I really am the center of the universe.” 

I wondered how the faith of the early Christians turned into this. How did the man who exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from a cross where he was being brutally murdered turn into a motivational speaker who medicates us from any pain with cheap theological clichés?

When did Christianity become a way of medicating us from pain rather than a way of living within the pain? 

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus gives us a hope, a future joy for which we are inspired to take up our cross and take another step forward. … But that is not the same thing as a numbing delusion that all is well with the world because “I’m on my way to Heaven because of the new covenant!”

There is a tension to the Kingdom of Heaven that is here but not yet here. That tension ought to give way to poetry. To lament. To art. Sure, there is room for some celebration, but if our faith has nothing else to it than positive messages and encouraging clichés, perhaps it has become a Band-Aid rather than a surgery. 

Worship music doesn’t need to be medication. Our worship music ought to put us in touch with the deepest places of our humanity, not simply distract us from our pain and put is in a good mood for the preacher’s talk. It ought to stir things deep in us. Hope. Joy. Anger. Mourning. Doubt. Love.

Have you ever had a relationship that never can get past the surface of things? A relationship where the people never talk about anything deeper than the weather or favorite sports teams is not a very deep relationship. The people in a relationship who have never had any disagreements or conflict are those who have kept their true hearts hidden from one another. A Christianity that does not lament is a shallow Christianity. It is a medicinal, numbing balm we use to avoid living life in a world that is groaning. It is a Band-Aid to cover our wounds. Fig leaves to be sewn over our humanness. And many of us need to be saved from our addiction to this anemic, shallow substitute for Christianity.  

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Michael Gungor
Michael Gungor is a singer/song writer living in Denver, Colorado United States. He leads a musical collective called Gungor that tours around the world performing and leading worship music in both mainstream and religious venues. Aside from his work with the band, he has written and produced music for other artists as well as help start a church in Denver called "Bloom".