Critical Christian
keyword search
Home Page
Book: The Effective Pastor
Memorials & Celebrations
Personal Matters
Williams Connections
Methodist Connections
Betsy's Gallery
Electronic Congregation
Lent 2011 and 2012
Reviews 2011 Forward
Two Blossoms


    As in surrender to the will of God: it's a theme rife in popular Christianity... with very little precedence in the Bible.

    Sunday morning last we listened to a solo in church entitled "Better Than I,"* by Joseph Bucchino.  It was exquisitely rendered in tenor voice, to spontaneous applause.  In Shakespeare the text would be identified as a soliloquy. It is God "who knows better than I."  Surrendering to and embracing the better wisdom of God for one's own life: that's the theme.  Who will argue with that?

    I will.

    In English 1 my freshman year at college we were subjected to weekly collaterals.  A "collateral" I quickly learned was a critical analysis of a piece of literature, poem, short story, essay, play, whatever the professor chose that week.  Among the measures to determine the literary value of the item under study was sentimentality, that is an indulgence in emotion for its own sake, and that is not good.  This critical Christian learned his collegiate lesson and has thereafter eschewed sentimentality in his sermons and prayers, including funeral services. 

    Of course, a good cry can be cathartic; but playing for tears has never been my style.  Tears will come, but they shouldn't be sought or celebrated. Authentic tears fall when the heart and mind (!) are moved by the unhappy truth of our mortal existence. Never, well practically never, should they fall in self-pity.

    Tell me, please, where in the Scriptures do we find surrendering to God's will advocated.  The Garden of Gethsemane comes immediately to mind. Where Jesus yields to God's will, the cross looming ahead, saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done."  That "yet" speaks volumes of struggle and hesitation, even as Jesus, yes, acquiesces. But the "yet" resurfaces on the cross, in the cry of dereliction. Jesus does "not go calmly into that good night."  

    The Galilean rabbi I name my Lord follows in the footsteps of a long line of exemplars. Like Jacob who wrestled at Jabbok through the night with an angel of the Lord and wrested from the heavenly visitant a new name, Israel... which means, can you guess?, "struggled with God."  Like Moses who argued with God from the burning bush through the wilderness to his death atop Mt. Nebo.  Like Elijah who witnessed and assisted the Almighty in the destruction of the heathen priests but still complained to heaven in solitude atop Mt. Carmel that "he got no respect."

    It is "Islam" which literally means surrender and submission. Not, no never, ever, Israel! Or its subsequents.

    Quietism, silence in the face of torment, sometimes passes as surrender.  Think the turned cheek.  Or the second mile.  Think Quakerism, and then you will understand that quietism can be the most determined opposition. George Fox, the Quaker's great patriarch, didn't spend most of his life in jail for being a pushover.

    Biblical faith is engagement with God.  A favorite literary model, albeit a caricatured one, for such faith is Don Camillo, in the book and movie made from it, "The Little World of Don Camillo."  This Catholic priest in Peppone spoke often with Jesus, represented in his chapel by a crucifix.  "Spoke" doesn't convey the true quality of the communication.  "Chatted" and "argued" would be more accurate.  When Don Camillo disagreed with his Lord or didn't want him to hear what he was thinking out loud, he would turn the face of the crucifix to the wall.  Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus  understand.  Living, loving relationships with the deity can also be contentious. 

    But not quarrelsome.  God abides enough of our bickering, shilly-shallying, and pontificating; no need for us to insist on our differences of opinion with the ways of heaven with earth.

    For God is the good parent of us all, and like a good parent God encourages us to stand on our own two feet, take charge of and responsibility for our own lives, and stop whining when things don't go our way.  Obedience and submission are what I expect (usually, if not always) from our pet dog, not from our daughters and grandkids. 


    There's a place, though not as big a one as is usually the case in Christian worship, for faithful introspection.  It's so hard to get it right, without the syrup.  Charles Wesley once in awhile managed it, as in "Jesus, Lover of My Soul."  And I have confessed to you too often my favorite hymn is "Amazing Grace," that I sing with authority that phrase in the first verse, "wretch like me."  Mr. Bucchino's lyric isn't all bad, but it is symptomatic of a direction in which the Christian hymnody goes at the peril of being inauthentic and, well, overly sentimental. 

     90% of the time the church is better advised to choose the hymns with bright, positive, and powerful themes, like "Lift High the Cross" or "A Mighty Fortress."   Leave the surrender songs to the imam. 


* Click on this hyperlink to read for yourself the lyric that prompted this response: Lyrics



< Back to Essays Archive

1990 - 2017 Bob Howard