Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

A good friend of mine recently told me that sometimes they feel guilty when worshiping. They get excited, singing praises to God, and then feel guilty when they get to a song that they aren't really "feeling." The song is not true to their immediate experience with God, and so they wonder if they should even sing it at all. I myself have felt this at times--I suspect that most Christians have, at some point in their lives. We don't always feel like worshiping God. How fortunate for all of us, then, that possibly the most epic book of the Old Testament relates the story of another man's struggle with this feeling--not only his struggle, but his epic, vindicating victory over it.

I told this friend of mind to read Job. It's usually a good piece of advice. Job is a pretty good book--in fact, Job is a pretty cool guy. He vindicated God's trust in him and doesn't afraid of anything (internet meme, don't worry about it). Job loses almost everything in the space of about 2 minutes: all of his cattle, the entirety of his wealth, are either taken by enemies or burned by the fires of heaven. His children are all killed in an instant. All he has left are his house (tent, maybe?), wife, and the four servants who were the ones to tell him of all the disasters that just happened to him. His response to losing almost everything he had? He tore his robe--a sign of mourning. He shaved his head--also a sign of mourning. And he fell on the ground and worshiped--also a sign of--no, wait, never mind.

In the midst of this great mourning--mourning for his 7 sons, 3 daughters, very many servants, and literally thousands of cattle--he worships. He says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." The first part of this will never be made into a worship song, and even the song "Blessed be the name of the Lord" shoehorns the giving and taking away into the bridge, not even part of the chorus. It is not a cheerful statement.  But it is worship nonetheless. "Blessed be the name of the Lord." We need to recognize that Job does not see the disasters as merely some chance occurrence. This is not bad luck. Job recognizes that this is something direct from God himself. And immediately after he voices this recognition, he praises God. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Job is not happy when he says this. He is not some kind of robot who doesn't care that all of earthly possessions besides his wife (who doesn't seem to have been entirely helpful throughout the ordeal) have been taken from him in an instant. He mourns the loss of his children deeply. He probably didn't really feel like praising God. But he did it anyway.

Worship can be about expressing the feeling that you already have towards God. And when it is that, it is a wonderful, joyous occasion, and you can sing and clap spontaneously, practically dancing in the aisles (unless you're Mennonite) . But it can also be about recognizing the objective fact that God is worthy of praise--not just abstractly worthy of praise, but worthy of your praise in particular. It can be about recognizing that God is worthy of praise even when he does not seem present to you, or when his gifts seem to turn to curses. In that case, worship is the conscious decision to offer him the praise he deserves, without regard for your own personal circumstances. And that kind of worship, while not so easy, nor so pleasurable, as the first kind, is a victory worthy of Job.

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