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The song inside the sorrow

By Mike Walker

As the dawn of 14th November rose over Paris, heralding news of the previous night’s nauseating events, the eyes of the world turned in stunned horror to the French capital. We’d heard of this happening in countries where such violence has tragically become the norm, but rarely on such a scale in an apparently secure Western country. With Paris came news of Baghdad and Beirut from just a day or two before, further tragedies wrought by IS, driving home the systematic tyranny the organisation is capable of.

As I sat watching a constant flow of updates, I, along with the shocked world, couldn’t help but feel helpless. Witnessing destruction on a mass scale, so overwhelming, and yet remembering that these attacks are a drop in the ocean of attacks carried out worldwide day by day. And then came the inevitable questions.

God, where are you in this?

Through the tears cried in agony and the thick darkness of pain, it can be difficult to see where he is. When our worldwide church family cries out and we see brothers and sisters suffering, our Father can seem distant and unhearing. In that moment it is all too easy to lose sight of him, to turn away, lost as to how we should respond.

But he is still good, though they say it’s not true.

As the tempest roars around, all we can do, all we must do, is to fall at his feet in worship, and join as one global family in song. It may feel uncomfortable. It may feel, under the circumstances, like we don’t mean what we sing and say. Our singing may feel futile. But, counter-intuitively, that gives us all the more reason to worship God again – doubting, uncertain, but longing to find him again. Against everything, we need to speak out truth when the lies about who God is, in the moment of trouble, press in thick and fast, and we feel crushed by despair.

Worshiping isn’t about some form of escapism or trying to hide away from the reality of pain and tragedy. On the contrary, when we worship we affirm truth – we make concrete again the firm foundations we stand on, we speak out against the lies and the whispers of the enemy. Worship changes an atmosphere heavy with grief to one of joy because we still know our Lord is good, even when all else seems to crumble around us. Worship unites us, because together – whether we are in Britain or Syria or France or North Korea – we are a family held together by the same truth of God’s unfailing love.

“When we worship we affirm truth – we make concrete again the firm foundations we stand on…”

Horatio Spafford, a prosperous 19th century Chicago lawyer involved with the evangelistic work of D.L. Moody and other revivalists, was a man well acquainted with sorrow. After the loss of a young son and the Chicago fire that destroyed most of his properties, he sent his wife and four daughters by boat for a much needed holiday to Europe which he later intended to join them on. During the crossing, he had news that all four of his daughters had drowned after the boat encountered a collision, leaving him only his wife.

In the aftermath of tragic loss, personal as in Spafford’s case or national as in France, it’s tempting to turn our backs on God and forget his goodness. Instead, Spafford worshiped, penning the famous lines that would eventually become the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul,”culminating in the bold affirmation:

When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Time after time in the Bible, when we read of searing loss, men and women do the least expected: they worship. When King David’s son died, and his advisors expected him to fast and weep, he “went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20). When Peter and John returned to the early church after their trial before the Sanhedrin and were warned to preach no longer, threatening their existence, the believers “raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:24). When Daniel’s friends were about to be thrown to death in a furnace unless they worshiped King Nabuchadnezzar’s image, they spoke out the affirmation that it is in God’s power to save them:

“But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up”
Daniel 3:18

Even if he does not, he is still good. He is still worthy to be worshiped. He still loves. Over this broken world, we need to bring the love song of the Father, over lies, over pain.

We don’t ignore the pain or try and avoid it when we worship. Instead, we confront reality in the only way we can – with a proclamation of God’s power. Let’s worship with Paris and the rest of the world, because he is still good.

The Author
Mike is a first year Theology student at the University of Nottingham, far flung from his native seaside hometown of Plymouth. Between reading big books, he loves writing, adventuring with Christ, and drinking good coffee with good friends.

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