The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Horrible Repentance Songs: SOUL ON FIRE by Third Day

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

How many professional Christian musicians does it take to write one bad song about repentance?  Well, in the case of Soul on Fire, it took six: Matt Maher, Brenton Brown, and four members of the Christian group Third Day.  So, really?  Six guys to write a song with so little to it?  Can you imagine that conversation?  “Hey, I put the G chord in the second verse, so I get my name on it.”   “Hey, I wrote that one line in the chorus, so I get my name on it, too.”  “Hey, I came up with the title, so I get a cut.”  We Christians really do get ridiculous in our lust for glory and fame, don’t we?

Now to understand why singing Soul on Fire is going to leave your soul feeling discouraged about ever getting into a good place with God, you need to get a correct understanding of how repentance works.  It’s time for some analogies.

Picture yourself walking down an empty street.  Now stop, turn around, and start walking back the other way.  How hard was that?  Not hard at all.  It was pretty fast, too—it only took you a second to change directions.  Well, in real life soul repentance is even faster than this.  Blink your eyes once.  Your soul can repent even faster than your eyes can blink.

But now let’s imagine a different scenario.  Imagine yourself driving some huge 18-wheeler semi down a narrow downtown street. Suddenly you realize that you’re heading in the wrong direction. Well, rats.  Now you’ll have to make a U-turn.  You get into position, and when the light turns green, you start trying to turn that huge metal trailer into a big old U-turn.  But yikes, the intersection is too tight.  You can’t make it.  Now you’re inches from a tree, and your back end still hasn’t left the lane you started in.  What a mess.  You back up a little bit, crank that wheel, then you go forward a little bit—that didn’t do much.  So you back up again, crank that wheel, go forward a little bit—is this even doing anything?  You’re getting flustered.  People are honking.  You lean out the window and see Jesus standing there watching the scene.  “Hey, Jesus, can You please help me out here?” you call out.  “I was going the wrong way and I’m trying to U-turn so I can get back where I’m supposed to be, but I’m all stuck.”  Jesus doesn’t answer, so now you’re not sure if He even heard you.  You’re feeling flustered.  Your forehead is glistening with sweat.  Back and forth, back and forth—you can’t tell if you’re making progress or not.  You just know that you’re now blocking an entire intersection and making everyone mad.  How humiliating.

That nasty semi situation represents the Church’s teaching on soul repentance.  It’s painful. It’s slow.  It’s humiliating.  It’s you struggling hard to fix your mistake while God just stands there giving you no encouragement. When you buy into the semi theory, you don’t just try to repent once—you end up repenting over and over again.  You keep confessing the same sins to God because you can’t shake the nagging feeling that He’s just not listening.  Then you turn on a Christian radio station, and you hear Third Day belting out the lyrics to Soul on Fire, and they’re just confirming that yep, your semi is still stuck in that intersection and, brother, you’ve still got a long way to go to get to God.

God, I’m running for Your heart; I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire
Lord, I’m longing for Your ways; I’m waiting for the day
When I am a soul on fire; Till I am a soul on fire
[x2]

What’s wrong with these lyrics is all of those present tense, continuous verbs.  You’re always running because you just can’t get there.  You’re still longing for Him because you just can’t reach Him.  You’re desperately waiting for the day when you’ll actually acquire the kind of intense desire for Him that you think He wants you to have.  And since you just can’t seem to make any progress in these areas, here you are, stuck in perpetual exhaustion.

Third Day is going to get you permanently stuck in the muck of despair with this terrible depiction of God, because they are very clearly suggesting that God is intentionally refusing to accept you back.  As an omnipresent Being, God is always with you.  As your loving Creator, God does not run away when you are trying to connect with Him.  Good grief, it’s like the guys who sing this song didn’t even know Who they were talking about.

It’s time for more analogies.  Picture yourself desperately wanting to be with Jesus.  After looking  around anxiously for quite a while, you finally spot Him.  He’s so far away from you that He’s like a speck on the horizon.  But never mind—you’re determined because you really want to be with Him.  So you take off running in His direction.  You run and run and run until you’re about to collapse from exhaustion.  But much to your despair, Jesus is just as far away from you now as He was before.  He keeps moving away from you like a mirage in the desert, and no matter how long and fast you run, you just can’t gain on Him.  This is the horrible imagery Third Day is giving you in this awful little song: you have to keep running and running, but you can’t ever get there because God just isn’t into you.

Happily, that whole analogy we just used is total garbage and not at all how things really work.  So now let’s use another analogy to demonstrate how God says things work.  Imagine yourself running away from Jesus in some rebellious little huff.  Well, the minute you take off running, Jesus takes off as well, and He’s so close behind you that His toes keep nipping your heels.  “Really?  You think you can ditch Me?” He calls out.  “You’re not getting anywhere.  I can last a whole lot longer than you can.”  He’s right, of course.  Soon you’re about to collapse, but He’s not even panting for air.  “Okay, forget it,” you finally gasp.  “I’m being so stupid to try and run away from You.  I’m sorry.”  As you say this, you turn around and give Him an apologetic look.  He smiles and pulls you into a tight bear hug, plants a big kiss on your face, and says, “Yeah, this is more like it.  Come on.”  He puts His arm around you and the two of you start walking off into the sunshine together.  This is how repentance actually works.  The very second you drop the attitude and turn back to God, He immediately accepts you.  He doesn’t go hide behind a tree or pretend that He can’t hear you.  He doesn’t make you grovel in the dirt or give you some long list of demands.  But wait—why would God make getting back into a good place with Him so incredibly easy?  Because He wants you to succeed with Him. 

Where is God in Soul on Fire?  He’s not there.  There’s just you, desperately calling out for Him, while He is apparently off walking among the stars somewhere.

Lord, restore the joy I had; I have wandered, bring me back
In this darkness, lead me through; Until all I see is You

Notice how these lyrics are teaching you to refuse to acknowledge that God has already accepted your repentance.  “I have wandered, bring me back,” you sing.  And yet God doesn’t have to bring you back, because you’re already with Him.  See the problem?  You’re standing in the bear hug, but you’re refusing to accept it, so instead you describe yourself as lost in darkness which you need God to lead you through.

No doubt the six guys who wrote this bomb understand how easy it is to feel like God isn’t forgiving us when we are struggling to forgive ourselves.  But instead of encouraging you to put your faith in facts, these dingdongs are telling you to put your faith in feelings. If God feels far away, then He must be far away.  If you feel unforgiven, then you must be unforgiven.  Don’t bother to trust in the goodness of God, and don’t dare to believe that His love for you is really as deep as He says it is.  Just embrace the darkness and the despair and tell yourself that you’re doomed to forever run after a God who refuses to be found by you. Talk about an example of horrible Christian leadership.

God, I’m running for Your heart;
I’m running for Your heart; Till I am a soul on fire;
Lord, I’m longing for Your ways; I’m waiting for the day;
When I am a soul on fire; Till I am a soul on fire

You know something?  You’re impossible to please.  After all, what does a soul on fire look like if it isn’t someone who is panting after God as much as you are in this song?  Why do you keep saying that you don’t yet qualify as being a soul on fire when you’re expressing such a desperate desire to be with God?  It’s a good thing God is so much nicer than you are.  He delights in the tiniest spark of interest in Him—He doesn’t just scoff and say, “Talk to Me when you’ve got some serious flames happening.”  Yet in this song, you describe yourself as running desperately after God, only to turn around and criticize yourself for not being “on fire” enough.  Good grief, you need to seriously lighten up.

Lord, let me burn for You again; Let me return to You again
And Lord, let me burn for You again; And let me return to You again

Here’s more horrible language.  You’re obviously burning in more ways than one, so you hardly need to be asking God to “let me burn.”  And asking God to let you return to Him is the same as you shoving Him away and refusing to acknowledge that He’s already with you. Happily for you, God isn’t going to ditch you just because you’re refusing to acknowledge that He’s standing right there.  But you really need to stop wallowing in these faithless lyrics.

God, I’m running for Your heart; I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire
Lord, I’m longing for Your ways; I’m waiting for the day
When I am a soul on fire
God, I’m running for Your heart; I’m running for Your heart
Till I am a soul on fire…

No matter how catchy the song is, you need to realize that rehearsing bad theology about God is going to have a detrimental effect on your faith.  God says that He loves you right now.  He says that when you do try to run away from Him, you can count on Him to grab your arm and pull you back. That’s what conviction is: it’s God demonstrating how real His desire for you is by swiftly calling you out on your bad attitude and telling you to re-embrace a soul attitude of reverential submission.  You see, if God didn’t give a hill of beans about you, He would just let you run away and say “good riddance.”  But because He dearly loves you, you can count on Him to stay on your case and plague your life with problems until you finally decide that fighting Him just isn’t worth the trouble.

Soul on Fire is a repentance song, and that means its language can only apply to a soul who is just coming out of a period of snarky rebellion.  Is that really you?  If not, don’t pretend it is.  If it is, then this song is still not something you should be singing, because it’s going to make you feel like getting back into a good place with God is some difficult, frustrating process.  But no, you’re really not stuck in that semi while Jesus watches you struggle with an indifferent expression on His face.  Before you can even finishing praying a sincere prayer of “God, I want to get back into a good place with You,” He is already smothering you in that bear hug.  Refuse to accept the baggage that other faithless Christians are dragging around.  Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are extremely gracious Beings who are incredibly easy to succeed with.  Cherish Their desire for you, and refuse to let any other Christian talk you into minimizing Their great love for you.

FURTHER READING:
Understanding Repentance
Overcoming Shame
Conviction Q&A
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Repentant Sinners: Is it wrong to stop feeling bad about the past?
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
What it Means to be Aligned with God
Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
Confession Worship Songs: The Heart of Worship
Understanding Unpardonable Sins: Lies vs. Truth

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