• Surrender to God: A Bad Solution to a Small Problem

    Sweet surrender: maybe. Solipsistic surrender: probably.

    Last year, I agreed to attend an Alpha Course. If you have never heard of Alpha, it’s a weekly series of 10-plus topics related to Christianity. Every week, we had dinner, and watched a DVD on some “big question” like “Who was Jesus?” Then, we broke into small groups to discuss the topic further. The centerpiece of Alpha is a weekend retreat with several more DVDs and discussions, culminating in an orgiastic gathering where people invite the Holy Spirit into their hearts. As I said, I attended. I even enjoyed it. But I did not become a Christian, and I left Alpha with the impression Christianity was more irrational than I had previously thought. If you are interested in my chronicles of the experience, go here.

    Looking back, it’s the music that stays with me as a source of humor. Here, for instance, is part of the song, “The Potter’s Hand”:

    Take me, mold me, use me, fill me.
    I give my life to the Potter’s hand.
    Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me.
    I give my life to the Potter’s hand.

    Next example, “Spirit of the Living God”:

    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
    Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,
    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

    One more. This is from “Forever Reign”:

    Oh, I’m running to Your arms
    I’m running to Your arms
    The riches of Your love
    Will always be enough
    Nothing compares to Your embrace
    Light of the world forever reign

    The first two examples work the same theme of the worshiper surrendering body and life to the will of an external creator and power. Both traverse a fine line between pleading and enjoining. The language could be that of master as well as servant. The force of both examples comes from the invocation of touch. They cry out for nothing less than a full, flesh-on-flesh caress.

    The third lyric is no less passionate. “Nothing compares to Your embrace” decidedly eroticizes the lyric. This God is more than father. This is a lover whose powerful upper body over-satisfies the worshiper. Indeed, it’s almost anti-climactic to add “Light of the world forever reign.”

    The lyrics show a clear, unabashedly erotic strain in the God-human relationship. The worshiper lathers herself/himself in imaginations of desire, physical intimacy, and emotional surrender. The penitent says to God/Jesus: I want to be immersed in you, and you in me. I want to be the instrument of your desire and will.

    But the eroticism itself is unsurprising. Mystics, visionaries, and holy folk of all religions have for millennia fired up their whole bodies in transcendent love. What is arresting is the longing to (be able to) submit oneself totally–to, dare I say, islam. In contrast, I remember from Judaism a valuing of the struggle with God, the iconic wrestling that Jacob undertakes in Genesis 32. Many Jews proudly think on the story of putting God on trial.

    I don’t know what accounts for Christian wanting-to-surrender. Maybe people feel their lives are too much or they are trying to come to terms with a general sense of disappointment. Nevertheless, this approach to surrender is why I think sometimes that Christianity is rather sad: eroticism/surrender appears a ritualized response to personal disappointment.

    The problem is that the ritual does not heal the disappointment, or resolve it, or improve it. Instead, the ritual keeps it as the very foundation for appealing to the great god who is perfect and never disappoints. It’s a bad solution to something that doesn’t need to be a big problem.

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    Article by: Larry Tanner