There’s a popular worship song I’ve heard in recent years that I just can’t sing. The heart behind the lyrics is right, and the overall focus of the song is the goodness of the Lord, but at one point, it repeats a line over and over again—that God is never going to let us down. Every time I hear it, I just can’t bring myself to sing those words.
I’ve wrestled for months now about my hesitation in saying that God is never going to let me down.
- Is it because I still feel wounded by tragedy that has affected our family?
- Is it because of my hardness of heart?
- Is it because I resist confessing something true in an ultimate sense—that God will eventually fulfill all of his promises and will satisfy us with his presence for all eternity—if the lyrics run up against common experience here on earth?
- Is it because I worry that if I tell myself over and over again that God will never let me down (without consciously considering the eternal truth that in the end I will be forever satisfied in God), I am setting myself up for future disappointment in the inevitable moments when I will indeed feel “let down” by how God chooses to exercise his sovereignty in my life?
I’m not disputing the theological accuracy of that line, and I’m not on a crusade against the song, but I do wonder about the helpfulness of the lyric. Maybe you feel the same way. Tragedies sweep in and take our breath away, leaving us disoriented, confused, angry, and wounded. Unanswered prayers lead to questions about the inscrutability of God’s ways and whether praying changes anything. Heartache accompanies disappointment when you wake up in the morning and realize your life or your career or your family isn’t at all what you’d hoped for or expected.
I know of a guy in his 30s whose wife has terminal cancer who has trouble with a line from another worship song that implies that trusting God is easy. His grief reminds me of Psalm 137, where in their lament the exiled people of God hang up their instruments and weep by the waters of Babylon, asking how they could sing the Lord’s song in such terrible circumstances.
Psalm 137 is just one of many similar sentiments we find in Scripture. In reading the psalms every month, I’m struck by how many times the psalmist includes feelings of deep disappointment in the same song that offers praise. The psalms of lament express disappointment with God, ask questions about his plan, and display the wondering and wandering heart of a sojourner on earth. But in most of these songs, the psalmist claws his way back to the God he chooses to believe is still there, still good, and still able to fulfill his promises. Unlike some contemporary songs, the psalmist doesn’t say, “God, you’re good because you’ll never let me down,” but “God, even though I feel like you’ve let me down, I still believe you’re good.”
The psalmist prepares me for the road of suffering and gives me ahead of time a hymnbook to help me express the reality of God’s goodness when the walk of faith feels like making my way through impenetrable fog. That’s what I want to sing—something that acknowledges the bloodied, weary hand still barely able to lift itself in praise, hanging on to a thread of truth that God is still good, even though the darkness of disappointment has closed in. That’s why I appreciate the original version of the song I mentioned above, in which the ending says, “When the night is holding onto me, God is holding on.”
The songs we sing should prepare us for seasons in life in which we’ll feel “let down” by God. In Suffering is Never for Nothing, Elisabeth Elliot writes:
“If your faith rests in your idea of how God is supposed to answer your prayers . . . then that kind of faith is very shaky and is bound to be demolished when the storms of life hit it. But if your faith rests on the character of him who is the eternal I AM, then that kind of faith is rugged and will endure.”
That’s the kind of faith I want to cultivate in my heart through the songs I sing and the Scriptures I read. A rugged and enduring faith that prepares me for the moments when I will be disappointed or feel “let down,” and yet still points me to the character I see on display in my crucified King.