When I was really little, my new-Christian-mom and I listened to a lot of praise music in the car. Most of her favorite stories about me come from these times.
Once, when I was about 3 or 4, we were listening to a song called “Our God Reigns.” I was singing along contentedly, and then stopped and looked concerned.
“You know, Mommy, sometimes our God sunshines too.”
It’s a cute story, and I was probably just talking about the weather, but it’s also telling about something that would continue into adulthood.
The tradition I grew up in, the Reformed nuevo-puritans, is not about a sunshiney God. Their God thunders, really.
He loves you…in spite of how totally wretched you are.
The cross was a reminder of what you deserve.
All biblically accurate. That’s the kicker. God has this dark and stormy side. And we love that side. It’s the side that stands up for the oppressed and has the final say against injustice! We’re sinners too, and God sees that. But one true thing does not a whole self nourish.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about sin and idolotry. It was that I wanted to talk about something else sometimes. Just sometimes. I wanted some hope.
My spine hurt from the constant game of limbo. How low can your self-esteem go? It’s not low enough until you feel like a worm.
And that mentality had a way of working itself into every area of life. Marriage between two Wormy Sinners is a bloodbath. Wormy Sinner Parents raising Wormy Sinner Children was a jungle fight. Wormy Sinner Communities are messes. Sure does make you want to be in that club, huh? Don’t you want to be reminded what a Wormy Sinner you are in all of life’s most happy moments?
But in my head, there’s a well-trained voice that says, “That’s correct. That’s accurate.”
Maybe so. But knowing myself, and my tendency to obsess…what do I want to obsess on? God’s goodness or my badness? (Spare me the theology talk about how it’s our badness that show us how good he is and vice versa.)
So (among other reasons) I gave myself some distance from the I-am-a-Worm Club.
It might take me the rest of my life to really believe that God sunshines, and that I can just bask in that without self-flagellating. It may take the rest of my life, but I’m going to do it. With the help some good, honest “God loves you” preaching. I’ve needed it.
But recently, I really missed the nuevo-puritan’s revamped hymnal, so I bought some CDs and revisited the days when I used to listen to worship music in the car. I had to laugh though. Even the titles of the praise music reveal a slight preference for “hard truths.” There are a lot of titles like “Come and Mourn,” “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” and “Come Ye Sinner Poor and Wretched.” Not all, just more than you’d expect.
In the end, the nuevo-puritan revamped hymnal has not left me high and dry. If I had to pick an anthem for my slow and halting return to the disciplines of grace, it would have to be this more eloquent expression of my childhood assertion that God sunshines:
Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.