“Cannons”, Grace, and Grief

I visited another church this morning.  I have called it “The Sarah Palin church” because it is related to a church that Sarah Palin attended in Wasilla, Alaska.

This church’s service had four or five praise and worship songs before we got to the sermon.  I kind of liked that: it’s more than some churches I have attended, but sometimes I need more songs to get into a worshipful mood.

One of the songs that we sang was “Cannons.”  This is actually a song that the United Methodist church that I have usually attended likes to sing.  But there is one line that is different.  The song that the UMC church sings has the line: “I’m lost and lonely, but still you love me.”  By contrast, the song that I sang at the Sarah Palin church this morning has: “I’m so unworthy, but still you love me.”  I was listening to the Contemporary Christian Music channel not long ago, and it, too had “I’m so unworthy.”  Maybe the previous pastor at the UMC church that I attended changed the line, since she had somewhat of a problem with the doctrine of original sin.

The sermon this morning was part of a series entitled “God Didn’t Say That.”  This morning, the preacher was critiquing the line of “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  The preacher was saying that, in life, we will experience more than we can handle, but that is an opportunity for God to work in us and through us.  He shared about the death of his brother in an automobile accident, and how God helped him through that and enabled him to comfort others.  He told an atheist who was amazed by this that this had to be God: left to his own devices, he would be in the bar drinking.  But God was helping him through.

The preacher talked about the biblical story of Gideon.  Gideon wondered if God was even with Israel, since Israel was being bullied and robbed by the Midianites.  But this was on account of Israel’s sin.  The preacher was saying that, when we do something stupid, God goes with us.  The preacher was disagreeing with the idea that God cannot stand to be around sin.  He even said that this idea should be added as part of the “God Didn’t Say That” series!

What are my reactions?  I did like the concept of grace: God goes with us when we do something stupid.  I thought of I Corinthians 6:15: “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid” (KJV).  Does God going with us mean that God bails us out?  Sometimes he may, but not necessarily.  Why else would the Bible have those warnings in Proverbs about the consequences of stupid or wicked actions?  We should not tempt God.  Still, I’d like to believe that God’s love is constant even when I do stupid things.

On grief, I think that people should feel free to grieve.  They should not be told that they, as Christians, should not have grief, since God is sustaining them, and thus they should be a comfort to others.  Some people need to be comforted by other people, and there is no shame in that.  I am not saying that the preacher this morning would disagree with what I just said.  But some could take his insights in the direction of saying: “You’re weak?  You need to depend on God, and then you will be happy and can comfort others.”  Of course, when it comes to grief, it is a path that, ultimately, people walk alone.  Even if they have comforters or people who reach out to them, they still have to deal with the pain themselves.  Faith can help them on that path.  And maybe, like the preacher this morning, they will find that God is carrying them.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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2 Responses to “Cannons”, Grace, and Grief

  1. Laura says:

    Regarding that line change in the song. Very interesting. Perhaps the reason was not so extreme as a problem with the doctrine of original sin, but just heavily influenced by our age of self-esteem and self-affirmation, related to the whole positive thinking influence. You’ve read my book… : ) Similar to how the line of Amazing Grace “that saved a wretch like me” is changed to “that saved and strengthened me” by some churches.

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi Laura! That’s a good question. I guess it depends on who made the change. In searching the Internet, it seems like the song itself has “I’m so unworthy”—-and that’s the version that is known. I cannot find “I’m lost and lonely,” which is what the church that I have attended uses. That makes me wonder if the UMC church that I have attended altered it, since I remember the previous pastor saying she had a problem with original sin. Was the change made out of leaning heavily on self-esteem and self-affirmation? Well, she did say at one point that we need to love ourselves before we can love others—-whereas, of course, you argue in your book for the side that we already love ourselves. But I wouldn’t say that the church under her ministry, or her successor, particularly emphasized self-affirmation. A lot of their emphasis has been on developing a relationship with God and doing God’s work in the world.

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