Down in her heart...

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How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance. - Psalm 89:15

Men are made for happiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, "I am doing God's will on earth." All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy. - The Brothers Karamazov, Book II, Ch. 4

A friend sent me this music video from the band Page CXVI today, commenting "postmodern, hipster, tortured irony at its most ridiculous." Describing it this way showed great restraint. I showed it to my wife and another friend who both were convinced the video is a parody of Red Mountain Music or Bifrost Arts, but so far as I can tell, Ms. Al-Attas is offering her "Joy" in earnest. 

It shames me to admit it, but this stuff reminds me of my own dismal outlook when, ministered to by a reformed church, I was first coming back to the Lord...

Sadly, New Calvinists (otherwise known as "Young, Restless, and Reformed) lean towards mistaking gloominess for godliness. Likely it's because so many of us spent our childhoods suffering under revivalism's triumphalism, Evangelicalism's naïveté, or some combination of both. Neither tradition prepared us to face the horrors of sin--particularly our own--so we began to look for a faith that didn't deny sin's reality, but looked it in the face and dealt with it. This is part of the explanation for the renewed interest in the Doctrines of Grace.

Once Calvinism is discovered for the truth it is, though, young people raised on a diet of saccharine hypocrisy can easily latch on to it, not as a means for obtaining true joy that flows from repentance from sin and trusting in God's promises, but as theological justification giving reign to their inner angst. If darkness, doubt, and depression were institutionally suppressed in their fundamentalist past, Calvinism now seems to give permission to hang it all out there.

When a generation empowered by Facebook and Youtube does this, the results are disturbing. Case in point.

From the video's comments I gather that Page CXVI's Latifah Al-Attas created "Joy" in immediate response to the death of her father. This fact makes the piece difficult to critique. But as you watch, consider that in the midst of losing his fortune to fire, his son to scarlet fever, and his four daughters to drowning, back in 1873 Horatio G. Spafford had the Christian faith to pen the hopeful (and doctrinal) "It Is Well with My Soul." Or that while pastoring alone in the besieged and diseased city of Eilenberg where he conducted sometimes as many as fifty funerals a day, Martin Rinkart wrote "Now Thank We All Our God--the doxology of the Reformation.

Now though, in the midst of its own form of suffering, the Facebook generation turns to angst-ridden, ironic, and utterly vapid sentiments. When you watch the video, hang in there to the very end--to that final lifting of the peddle so pregnant with meaning.


Likely the bereaved Ms. Al-Attas would say she was giving voice to the dark and cynical feelings we all sometimes have, and that her father's death helped her get in touch with those feelings in an authentic way others have recognized and been helped by. She might further tell us the song's ecstatic climax provided her some personal catharsis.

Catharsis makes for good opera, but it's no spiritual discipline. It's too ephemeral for that. Emotional release is not to be confused with true comfort from God. Our heavenly Father binds up the broken-hearted, but when He does so, it's His way to communicate His attributes to the grief-stricken soul propositionally. Men do not experience communion with God through feelings or sentiments primarily, but by means of His objective Truth.

God is a God of the Word and we must not despise that Word. When give ourselves to it, we find real comfort and true joy. Ms. Al-Attas' soul (and ours) would have been much better served had she attempted to express (even imperfectly) her taking hold of the comfort that is hers through Christ in owning God as her Everlasting Father. Instead, what she's given us is a 5-minute study in emotive irony free of any direct reference to God. At least in this respect the original "I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy" is much better. Sure it's childish, but the child is taught that the ground of his joy is Jesus dwelling within him. 

My beef is not with bereaved Ms. Al-Attas. It's with reformed shepherds who jump on the bandwagon and use such moody, unhelpful, self-involved drivel; reformed church planters and their vision-casting team who cuddle up to works like "Joy," claiming Ms. Al-Attas and her androgynous fellow musicians are a model for what Christian art and worship ought to be in our day.

Isn't there someone today who is like Spafford and Rinkart of old--someone who will have the faith to improve his sufferings to the true benefit of the Church? Someone who can turn our gaze away from our navels and upwards to the Father of the heavenly lights, the fount of every blessing in Whose presence is fullness of joy?

Is there a faithful man among the Facebook generation who has had sanctified to him his deepest distress, and therefore has a new song to sing?

Jody Killingsworth

Jody serves as worship pastor at Clearnote Church in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a lecturer at Clearnote Pastors College and frontman for My Soul Among Lions. You can find many of his musical contributions to the church over on the Clearnote Songbook.

Want to get in touch? Send Jody an email!