The Dangers of Singing About a Dangerous God

I heard this song on Spotify's radio this morning.  That link is a Spotify link.  In the event you don't have a Spotify account, I'll drop the YouTube video here as well.  It can be found to the right.

The song is "God of The Angel Armies" by Jonathan David Helser.  The chord charts to the piece can be found here. 

When Chris Tomlin's "Whom Shall I Fear?" appeared on the most recent Passion album, I asked a question similar to this one on Facebook, "Is anyone uncomfortable with the blatant military language being used in this song?"  I got a mixture of reactions from my Facebook friends.

The themes of both Tomlin's song and Helser's song above are much the same: there are enemies against us, God is stronger, we have nothing to fear.  It's a typical and empowering refrain. Tomlin even uses it in the unquestionably popular "Our God" where he uses the Apostle's word in writing "And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?"  The question I posed on Facebook, though, was something different.  Is the militaristic language in the song helpful to the modern world who has seen the damage of things like the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb?  Perhaps, asked differently, this question might capture the sentiment better: If violent language is readily and repeatedly used to relate God to humanity so that we might better understand God, are we faithfully developing and promoting the fullness that God shows to the world through Christ?

The initial reaction many have to such a question is to provide evidence of violent imagery within the pages of Scripture. "God is violent, " they say.  "How can we understand God's power and might without being faithful to the violence found within God's Word?"  This is, in my reading, a fair assessment; throughout the powerful words of Scripture, we are faced with a God who uses brute force, if need be, to get God's way. After all, God has been known to wipe out entire cities...even the entire world...if he has become convinced that the world is in need of a change and return to his ways.

I preach a lot of peace on Facebook.  I'm constantly arguing that weapons, especially guns, are fundamentally bad for us and that Christians are called to live a different life in which Jesus's message of nonviolence brings peace to the world. In the midst of these conversations, I have to be careful to not do what Marcion did, accept one version of God over, and even at times against, another.  I'll admit that I struggle with letting Jesus's words to Peter in the garden supersede the words of God to Joshua outside of Jericho.

But I return to my question, is the fullness of God and Jesus's message overshadowed by a repetition of God's almighty nature? Is it helpful for Christians to sing songs about the "God of Angel Armies" post atom bomb? Or, more accurately, is it helpful for Christians to sing songs about the "God of Angel Armies" in a world where violence is seen as the sole solution to persecution of liberties?  This is where I think I'm beginning to draw the line.

Violence, in this world, is the way in which we understand how to get our way.  If an intruder enters our house, we are allowed to shoot them if we feel as if our life is at risk.  That's called self-defense.  At an extreme level, though, it is using violence to combat violence.  Violence is also how we seek out our enemies.  If a country wants to grow, say in the 1930s, it uses military violence to expand its land property and "save its economy." If dissenters are opposed to the work the government is doing to "better" their lives, the dissenter is shot (violence) in the street. Violence is the way in which we have learned to communicate in today's world.  To get what we want when we want, we often resort to violent means.  At a basic level, this is the foundation of terrorism.

Consider terrorism for a minute. What is it that we are opposed to about terrorism in America?  It's not the dissenting voices; we believe in freedom!  We are opposed to terrorism because of what separates terrorism from freedom of speech: violence. However, we respond to the terrorist's violence by sending hoards of troops overseas to seek them out, murder them, and bomb them. Violence is not truly bringing peace, it's teaching violence (we're just too blind to see that the American definition of "peace" is too narrow). 

We Americans get to see this.  We get to see the response to violence with violence.  We see it on the nightly news and hear the means of justification from Obama's mouth.   We do it all in the name of liberty.  We do it all in the name of freedom. 

And then, just days after we see this on the news, we go to church and sing a song about how great God is; God is so great that he is above everything and can defeat everything. We even use the word "army".  And suddenly, without much warning, our American definitions of freedom, liberty, justifiable violence, terrorism, and God mix with our Christian understandings and they all collide into one message that the worldly violence we see on TV is the only way God can get what God wants. We've placed all these things into one lump understanding.

How much, though, is the confusion of terminology affecting the way we understand God, God's grace, and how God gets what God wants? 

Ironically, I'd like to suggest this: the song, because of the worldly context its sung in, is doing the opposite of what it's trying to do. While trying to proclaim that God is almighty, ruling over everything and able to conquer all, it cannot successfully and adequately do just that because of its limiting language which is equating God's power to solely violent means.