I love worship time at church. Even when I’ve never heard the song before. Who cares? Just make it up. (Protip: If you sing harmony, it’s easier to get away with this, since you’re supposed to be singing different notes than everyone around you.)
So if I stop singing at some point, it’s probably for one of five reasons:
- I want to stop and think about the words instead of just saying them.
- I can’t honestly sing the words of the song at the moment. There was a month when I could not sing “It is Well With My Soul” and sincerely mean it. (And, in just five weeks, everyone decided to sing that song. It happened seven times. No joke. I felt like I was being stalked by a hymn.)
- I’m starting to enjoy hearing my own voice so much that I’m not worshipping God anymore. I’m worshipping the sound of my own harmonies bouncing off the head of the person in front of me.
- I can’t sing without laughing, because the song is just bad poetry. Mixed metaphors, phrases that don’t make any sense. Basically, this one is me being a snob, and I’m working on it, I promise.
- I think the song has terrible theology.
The song, “Your Love Never Fails” falls into that last category. At least, I feel like part of it does. There is this kinda sorta not-great feeling that I get in the bridge, the part where we repeat, “You make all things work together for my good” over and over again.
In case you’ve been living in some sort of heathen cave for the past five years, here’s the song. Skip to 3:20 for the part I’m talking about.
“But Amy,” you say, “you can’t possibly call something bad theology when it’s ripped out of the pages of the Bible! That song is basically quoting Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’”
To which I say, “Wait, you mean there’s a verse that says that? I’ve never seen that anywhere! Not on calendars, thinking-of-you cards, coffee mugs, Pinterest memes, out-of-context Facebook discussions, and commemorative Bible verse paperweights shaped like the apostle Paul!”
Okay, fine. What I’d really say is, “Yes, Romans 8:28 says that God will work through all circumstances for the good of those who love him. Which, if I love God, includes me. But something about that line in the song still feels theologically…off.”
It took me a while to figure out what it was: the emphasis. Over and over in the song, I’m saying, “You make all things work together for my good.” The way the music is written, you can’t not stress that syllable. It even gets dragged out an extra beat.
The church I went to while in college did a quick edit to the line and just had us sing, “You make all things work together fo-or good.” So, stretching out “for” a bit to cover up the incriminating preposition. This was a little awkward both musically and for the people who sang with their arms raised and eyes closed and blurted out “my” anyway.
But I liked it better. Not because there’s anything wrong with the song “Your Love Never Fails.” What the songwriters meant by that line is very true.
At the same time, I am always due for a musical reminder that my individual good (the way I define good, meaning whatever happens to make me happy at the moment), is not at the center of God’s plan for structuring the entire universe.*
Because sometimes, I am just selfish enough to believe that. Sometimes, I have not graduated to Bernard of Clairvaux’s third degree of love.
Who was Bernard of Clairvaux, you ask?
He was a monk from the turn of the last millennium who stayed at the same monastery from age 25 till his death.
The first degree of love that Bernard talked about is love for self for self’s sake. This comes pretty easily to most of us (by which I mean all of us). The second is love of God for self’s sake. And the third is love of God for God’s sake.
Of this one, he says, “We have obtained this degree when we can say, ‘Give praise to the Lord for he is good, not because he is good to me, but because he is good.’ Thus we truly love God for God’s sake and not for our own.”
Now, to be fair, a ton of the Psalms are written with an emphasis on what God did for the psalmist or the people in general. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s very important for us to use those time in our lives as memorials to God’s faithfulness.
That said, I think it’s dangerous to repeat a mantra that puts too much emphasis on a potentially-misleading statement like “You make all things work together for my good.” It may be true, but only in a certain context and with certain clarifications.
Will some people find the bridge of this song encouraging as they picture circumstances in their lives where they feel defeated? Yes. And for that reason, I’m not saying we should burn this song at the stake.
But I’ll probably continue not to sing that part, just to remind myself that it’s not about me. It’s about him.
What’s a worship song that you feel does a good job of focusing on God?
*Stuffy Theological Footnote For the Dedicated Reader: In a more technical sense, I believe God’s glory is at the center of his plan for structuring the entire universe. And that glory is ultimately our greatest good as well, since God is the source of all things true and good and beautiful. However, that is not typically the big-picture perspective I have when I insist that God instantly answer all of my requests the way I want and when I want.