God Is Not Your Puppy! Reconsidering Presence Of The Lord

Do we really mean the words we sing to God or are we just going through the emotion? Bryan discusses what it really means to be in presence of the lord.
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Byran Appley, a doctoral  candidate in philosophy at the University of Iowa.

puppy

Holy Spirit you are welcome here

Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere

Your glory god is what our hear longs for

to be overcome by your presence lord.

These are the lyrics of a popular Christian worship song, and are indicative of a movement that I’ve seen in some christian music that I have found disturbing, which I will call “warm fuzzy theology” or WFT.

Now, in terms of content, the lyrics above are fair enough.  There is a way of interpreting the song that is acceptable and expressing a (perhaps) profound truth.  The problem is that the desires that many in fact express by using these lyrics are decidedly not profound desires based on profound truths.

Here’s what I take many to be expressing when singing the above lyrics (along with many other such lyrics in contemporary christian music):

Holy Spirit come give me warm fuzzies

I really love you God,

Please come give me tons of warm fuzzies.

No!

God is not your puppy, and to insist for your interactions with God to be on the level of your interactions with a warm fuzzy puppy is nearly an insult to the notion of worship.  So, if this is the desire that you are expressing in singing this and similar songs, stop it!

Hopefully this is not the desire you are expressing in this sort of song.  Now, there are profound truths to be found amongst such lyrics that WFT would just as soon not have you notice.  So my admonition here is that you think long and hard about what you’re asking when you ask the Holy Spirit to fill the atmosphere and that your heart longs to be overcome by the Lord’s presence.

There are probably few people in history who have been overcome by the presence of the Lord.  And no, I don’t mean given really warm fuzzies by the Lord.  Such people are usually famous mystics.  John of the Cross may have been close.  And his journey was anything but full of warm fuzzies and roses.

So what are you asking for?  You’re asking for (if we’re being charitable) the beatific vision, or the intellectual sight of God.  This is something that is literally beyond your nature to do.  It can only be given by a supernatural gift of God.  Part of heaven will be being raised up to such a sight.  But the having of the beatific vision, along with being way beyond anything a WFTer can countenance, implies being morally perfect.  When you have the beatific vision you will not be able to do anything but what is good and right.  You will not fall into sin.  Maybe most people who sing these sort of lyrics have this or really want this right now.  I’m not sure.  Maybe everyone in contemporary Christianity is a profound mystic.

Now, there are ways to train yourself to get as close as a human can get to the beatific vision in this life by prayer and meditation on the truths of God’s nature (certainly not simply by listening to that cool drum riff in a worship song).  This is more probably what John of the Cross achieved (I’m not sure, I’ll leave this question to the historians).  And have you read Dark Night of the Soul?  This process is painful and difficult.  You are being changed from being a fallen sinful human being to being a good and supernaturally glorified new creation.  This process is liable to involve some pain.

Consider another example.  Now, the presence of the Lord (in this stronger sense) used to be confined to a specific location: the holy of holies.  Now was the holy of holies a room of warm fuzzies?  No!  The priest that had to go in was required to have a rope tied around him, in case he passed out or died and had to be drug back out by the other priests.  The divine presence is serious business.  It will be amazing, but it is not to be taken lightly.

So the next time you are asked to sing words like “I want to be overcome by your presence lord,” think long and hard about what this means and whether you really want it.  If you really come to decide that you want it, I suspect this will be a rather important turning point in your spiritual life.

 

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Bryan is a writer for Thriving Men, married to a wonderful lady named Alaina Appley. You may recognize him if you've seen the movie RoboCop (although probably not, because he has nothing to do with that movie). He has an M.A. in philosophy and is working on a PhD in philosophy at the University of Iowa.

4 Responses to “God Is Not Your Puppy! Reconsidering Presence Of The Lord” Subscribe

  1. jordan June 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    I’ll play devils advocate.

    “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” -Matthew 18:20

    While it’s true God’s local presence is ‘serious business,’ it is obvious from scripture that the presence of God may be with us in a subtler way.

    Additionally, much of contemporary worship should be seen as poetic rather than literal. “Flood the atmosphere” expresses a desire to be in God’s presence. It is not necessarily a literal request for God to fill the atmosphere. In this light, it seems the lyrics express a genuinely profound desire for our hearts deepest longing. The beatific vision may not be attainable in this life, but desiring it is right.

    • Brandon Wall June 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts Jordan. I think you are correct to say that the term “presence” can be taken in many ways. For example, since God is omnipotent, he is present to all beings through this creative and sustaining power. However, I don’t think this is really what Byran (the author) was addressing. I can’t speak for Bryan, but I think he was concern more with the general attitude that many sing these songs in–that is, just going through the emotions without really considering what this would mean. To really desire to see the beatific vision is just to say one truly wants to be holy has the Lord God is holy. But such a holiness can only come about through the death of our worldly flesh by taking up our cross and following him. In fact, Bryan does say “Now, in terms of content, the lyrics above are fair enough.” If this is the desire of the the person’s heart when they sing this song, then I think Bryan would have no problem (or he shouldn’t). He isn’t objecting to the music per se, but how the music is being used: “They glorify me with their months but defame me with their lives.”

      If seen through this light, do you still object? Please, let us know.

      Cheers,

      Brandon Wall

  2. jordan June 6, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    I do not object. My original objection has been exposed as a shallow treatment of the article. Hat’s off. Keep up the great content, I am enjoying the site.

    • Brandon Wall June 10, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Jordan, thanks for interacting with me these past few days.

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