The Pursuit of God

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Worship Bombs: KYRIE ELEISON by Chris Tomlin

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When people who speak different languages start socializing with each other on a regular basis, it doesn’t take long before they start merging their languages.  Each fellow steals some words and phrases from the other fellow’s language and he starts teaching those new phrases to his pals.  The English language is a fabulous example of this.  If you buy an English dictionary,  you’ll find that it contains many words that aren’t English at all, but English speakers have adopted them with such enthusiasm, that they now consider them part of normal English.  Take sauerkraut, for example.  There’s nothing English about that word, it’s totally German.  If English speakers wanted to keep their language pure, they could redefine what sauerkraut is in English terms.  But if you go into an American food market, you won’t find cans labeled as containing “pickled shreds of cabbage.”  Even though that’s what sauerkraut means in English, the Germans make it sound so much tastier by the way they say it, so English speaking Americans have stolen the term.  

In America, English speakers who don’t know how to converse in Spanish might still use the phrase “mi casa es su casa” to convey a sentiment of “My house is your house.”  Why not just say it in English?  Because when you say it in Spanish, it rolls off the tongue so much better.  With their heavy use of vowels, Spanish speakers have some really smooth phrases like “adios amigos” and “hasta la vista.”  But then there’s the French with their déjà vu and their delectable croissants.  The French are so good at dolling up unappealing foods, that they’ve talked us into trying all sorts of things we would normally avoid.  If an American were to say to his friend, “Hey, I’ve got some stale bread that’s super hard and dry—how about I bust it up into chunks and throw some on top of your salad?”, the friend is going to say, “Yuck, no.  I’m insulted that you’d offer me such crummy food.”  But when we refer to the dried up bread by the French term of crouton, suddenly it sounds so tasty.

The French really know how to con us into trying new things.  No American in his right mind would look at a slimy snail in his garden and think, “I’ll bet that might taste good with some garlic.”  And yet once the French introduce us to their fancy term of escargot, suddenly we’re paying big money to eat snails.  Who says words don’t have power?  It sounds gross in English if you talk about eating rice, seaweed and bits of raw fish that have all been wadded up together.  But when we steal from the Japanese and label those wads as sushi, suddenly we can get a whole restaurant going that sells nothing but those strange wads.    Who wants to talk about colorless distilled spirits when the Russians have come up with a word as fun as vodka?  And where would Americans be without Italians and their lattes, spaghetti and pizza? So this is how it works in real life: we constantly steal words from each other and we have a grand time doing it.  All of this word trading keeps human languages in a constant state of flux, and studying the evolution of languages tells you a lot about how various cultures have influenced each other over time.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the Romans spoke Latin—and the kind of Latin they spoke was quite similar to the Latin you’ll find being used by more conservative branches of the Catholic denomination.  The Romans come up a lot when you’re talking about New Testament history, because by New Testament times, Israel was under the control of Rome.  During the Old Testament, Israel was taken over by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and finally the Persians.  But here’s the strange bit: the New Testament was written in Greek.  What kind of sense does that make?

Ethnic Jews wrote all of the books in the Bible, and Hebrew was the official language of Israel.  The Jews who wrote the Bible were fiercely patriotic and proud of their cultural heritage and language.  So it makes total sense that they wrote the Old Testament in Hebrew.  What makes no sense is that they penned the New Testament in Greek.  When did Greeks come into it?  It turns out that they slipped in between the Old and New Testaments.

If you think of the Bible as a quick summary of Israel’s history from the time that she officially became a nation until around 96 AD, then what you’ll find is that there are 400 years of history which no one comments on.  Today some people call this period “the 400 years of silence,” because the Bible doesn’t talk about them.  But just because the Bible doesn’t comment on a portion of Jewish history doesn’t mean that nothing exciting happened during that time.  During those 400 years between the two Testaments, huge changes happened in the biblical world, with massive empires falling and new empires rising up (see Know Your Bible Lesson 42: Between the Testaments).  One empire that rose and fell during that 400 year gap was the Greek Empire.  The Greek Empire was established by a Greek fellow named Alexander the Great who was born to conquer.  So that’s what he did.  He went around attacking other nations and seizing their territory.  But while Alexander loved the challenge and thrill of conquering new places, he wasn’t interested in governing.  Governing takes a very different mindset than chopping people down with a sword.  So while Alexander was the fellow who would march into a neighborhood with a big gang of thugs, beat everyone up, burn the houses and announce that he now owned the place, he wasn’t going to stick around to rebuild and get the community organized.

Now once Alexander is gobbling up nations in the name of Greece, ethnic Greeks start moving into the new territory, bringing their language and culture with them.  Israel was one of the nations Alexander conquered, and suddenly the Jews found themselves being infiltrated by a lot of Greeks.  There were Greeks everywhere—far too many to avoid.  What do you do when you’re stuck dealing with someone who speaks a totally different language than you do?  It’s in your best interest to learn their language so that you can communicate with them easier.  But while you’re learning their new language, you’re not going to give up your own language—instead, you’ll become multilingual.  In New Testament times, a lot of Jews spoke both Hebrew and Greek.

Now as irritated as you are by Greeks invading your Jewish world, as time passes, you end up meeting a few Greeks who you like in spite of yourself.  Your Greek pals find your Hebrew name strange, so they give you a Greek nickname.  Soon you’ve got two names: the Hebrew name that your Jewish parents gave you which you use when you’re hanging out with your Jewish friends, and your Greek name that you use when you’re talking to non-Jews.  This was what happened with Simon Peter—Simon was the Hebrew name, and Peter was the Greek nickname.  It was the same with the apostle Paul.  Paul’s real name was Saul—that was the Hebrew name he was born with.  But to the Greeks, Saul went by the Greek nickname of Paul.  He didn’t really change his name, as many say today—instead, he just added a name.  Having multiple names and speaking multiple languages were common practices in New Testament times because there were so many different cultures mixing together in a small geographical space.  The fact that Hebrew speaking Jews wrote the New Testament in Greek tells us what a major impact Greek culture had on Hebrew culture, even after the Greek Empire had been gobbled up by the Romans.

By the time the Romans took over Israel and brought in their Latin language, the Greek influence was so strong that we find the Romans adopting many Greek words.  Today if you buy a dictionary of ancient Latin, you’ll find a lot of Greek entries, and this is actually a bit challenging because Greeks structured their words differently than Latin speakers did.  Just as English speakers today often strip away French accent marks when they talk about déjà vu and fiancées, Latin speakers had to come up with special ways of handling Greek words which ended with awkward letters like x.  But the Romans were so interested in keeping certain Greek words, that they adjusted the rules of their language to accommodate the new additions.

Now while Christianity emerged out of Judaism, the first major Christian denomination was Catholicism, and the first Catholics were Latin speaking Romans who were hanging on to a lot of words that they’d stolen from their Greek speaking friends.  It’s early Roman Catholics who you have to thank for things like the Trinity doctrine and the ongoing popularity of the ancient Greek phrase Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie means Lord in Greek.  Eleison is Greek for “have mercy on us.”  Did Latin speakers really need new words for these concepts?  Not at all.  Dominus is the Latin word for Lord, and misericordia is the Latin term for mercy. Latin speakers didn’t need to rip off the Greeks to say “Lord, have mercy,” but like Americans and sauerkraut, early Roman Catholics just couldn’t resist the fun of certain Greek phrases.  Today we’re still enjoying the way Kyrie eleison rolls so nicely off the tongue.  We like this phrase so much that we work it into songs in which all of the rest of the lyrics are in English.  Does this make sense?  No, it seems kind of silly, especially when the English phrase “Lord, have mercy,” is simple and shorter to pronounce.  But after remaining so popular for thousands of years, Kyrie eleison probably isn’t going to fall out of use anytime soon, especially with guys like Chris Tomlin writing songs that are based on that phrase.  Let’s now check out the lyrics of Tomlin’s Kyrie Eleison and learn why it’s really quite disrespectful for Christians to be constantly pleading with God to be merciful.

[Verse 1] Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy
Hear our cry and heal our land
Let kindness lead us to repentance
Bring us back again

Some Christian denominations are more into formal rituals than others.  Over the centuries, Catholicism has fought hard to preserve the kind of pomp and formalities that result in the Catholic pope dressing up in fancy robes, with a fancy hat, and sitting on a fancy throne.  By the time we’re designing special uniforms for people to wear in order to communicate titles like bishop, cardinal, nun, and monk, books of ritualistic prayers are quick to follow.  And once we start inventing prayers that we’re going to make everyone say, repetition is very common.

In Catholicism, repetitive prayers abound.  The very popular Catholic Rosary is a specific sequence of canned prayers which Catholics are taught to chant at God, regardless of how meaningful the words are to them personally.  Not only are Catholics pressured into reciting a bunch of prayers that someone else wrote, but they’re taught to recite some of the prayers multiple times, while they spend most of the time praying to a dead human: Mary.  Mary is not a God, and as Christians, we should never be praying to any created being, but Catholics get totally brainwashed into thinking idolatry is a fabulous thing.  This is the problem with you chanting other people’s prayers at God: they aren’t your words, they probably don’t really match what you’re honestly feeling, and often they end up insulting God’s intelligence by droning the same thing over and over at Him as if He is having trouble grasping the meaning of what you’re saying.

The Catholics have produced a large volume of canned prayers, most of which are quite lousy.  When they’re not busy praying to false gods like Mary and the angels, they’re often insulting God by talking to Him in ways that completely reject core truths about His Character and attitudes towards humans.  In Kyrie Eleison, Tomlin is ripping off language from a very common Catholic prayer “filler” in which people chant “Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy” some number of times.  We call this language “filler” because Catholics stuff it into many of their rituals, chants, and songs.

Now for any Catholics who might be feeling distressed and offended by the fact that we’re talking so negatively about rituals which you’ve been taught to think are fabulous, you need to realize that what we’re talking about right now is the language of prayer.  We’re not talking about soul attitudes.  Soul attitudes are what God judges you by, not the words that come out of your mouth.  In real life, there are a lot of sincere Catholics who have never been taught that praying to Mary is wrong.  It is wrong, because Mary is not a God, but God is not going to be upset with you personally if He knows that you don’t know any better.

God judges you by your soul’s response to Him, and nothing delights God more than a soul who sincerely cares about pleasing Him.  If this is your soul attitude today, then you need to stand on that and not read a bunch of condemnation into the fact that we’re ripping on Catholic prayer language.  Catholicism does a horrendous job of teaching people to talk to God in honoring ways—but it’s not like there’s any other Christian denomination out there who is doing it right.  As a Catholic who wants to please God, you need to realize that you are already pleasing Him when your soul is sincerely submitting to Him and cherishing Him.  The more pleasing you are to God, the more insights He’s going to give you about what He does and doesn’t like.  It’s not a criticism when God shows us that we’re talking to Him in ways He doesn’t like—it’s a compliment.  It’s an invitation to move even closer to Him, and we want to respond to that invitation enthusiastically, not get all down because we’ve been doing it wrong.  We are all doing it wrong in many areas with God, but He is slowly teaching each of us how to do better.  God hates idolatry, and He doesn’t want us praying to any created being for any reason.  But the fact that God hates idolatry does not mean that God hates you for doing idolatrous things when you’re doing them with good intentions.  God judges you by your soul’s response to Him, so ask Him to show you if there’s anything He wants you to learn from this material. Remember that when God speaks, your soul is going to feel inspired about moving closer to Him.  God does not just beat you down with a bunch of harsh criticism when He sees that you care about pleasing Him.  He never blames you for not understanding something that He’s never taught you.  Catholicism jams a lot of really unhelpful rituals down your throat, and it takes a while to transition out of them.  We all move forward in little baby steps. The goal is not to be perfect, but to keep moving forward, no matter how slowly.  Decide that you are going to be receptive to anything God wants to teach you, and you’ll go far.

So now that we understand that Chris Tomlin is imitating Catholics and trying to be fancy by throwing in some ancient Greek, let’s take another look at how he opens this song.

[Verse 1] Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy
Hear our cry and heal our land
Let kindness lead us to repentance
Bring us back again

Wow, what a bomb.  First, realize that as a human, you don’t ask for things which you really believe you already have.  If your friend Jack gives you a nice present for your birthday, do you respond by saying, “Jack, would you please give me a birthday present?”  No, you respond by saying, “Thank you for the nice present, Jack.”  Once you mentally acknowledge that you have received something valuable, your request turns into a statement of gratitude.  As Christians, this is what we’re supposed to be doing with God: we’re supposed to be acknowledging all of the wonderful things He’s already given us and expressing our gratitude for those things.

God is very pleased by our gratitude.  But instead of teaching you to honor God by thanking Him for His great generosity and kindness towards you, Christian leaders like Chris Tomlin teach you to keep asking God over and over again for things that He’s already given you.  And every time you ask, you’re refusing to acknowledge what you already have.  Soon you’re sounding just like bratty little Tommy who keeps nagging his mother for cookies. Every time Tommy’s mother gives him a cookie, he gobbles it down and then starts pulling on her leg and demanding another one without ever thanking her for the one she already gave him.  Tommy talks to his mother as if his mother is purposely ignoring him, when that’s not at all what’s happening.  In the same way, when you sing the first lines of Kyrie Eleison at God, you’re talking to Him like He’s some merciless Being who regularly beats on you and trashes your country just to do it.

You start this song by begging for Christ to have mercy on you two times, then you beg Him to hear your cry.  Why do you think it’s ever necessary for you to ask Christ to “hear your cry”?  Christ is an all-knowing God, and there’s nothing that He doesn’t hear.  Instead of talking to Christ like He’s deaf, you need to acknowledge that your real beef with Christ is that He’s not responding to your current troubles the way you want Him to—and that means He’s not magically fixing your life.  But why should He when you claim to be rebelling against Him?  Notice how you ask Christ to “let kindness lead us to repentance.”  What exactly do you mean by this “us” language?  Are you saying that you consider yourself to be on the side of those who are currently defying Christ?  If this is the case, why do you think Christ is going to respond to your foul attitude by raining blessings down on your head?

You really want to steer clear of repentance songs.  Begging God to forgive you or help you repent is simply inappropriate when you’re not personally in a state of spiritual rebellion. Should an obedient child beg his father to help him stop being such a rebellious brat?  No, because the child is not being a brat.  The child needs to be honest about where his own relationship with his father is at and stop trying to sell his father false pictures of reality.  In the same way, when you talk to God, you need to be honest about where you are currently at with Him. Don’t pretend you think He’s great when you’re actually mad at Him.  Don’t pretend you’re being a rebel when you know that you really care about pleasing Him.  Lying works with humans, but it’s a waste of time with God, because God knows you inside and out.  God has no use for you putting on a phony act with Him.  He wants raw honesty from you, and that means you shouldn’t be singing lyrics at Him which you don’t really mean.

Now the most effective way to motivate spiritual rebels to repent and submit to God’s Authority is to plague their lives with trials.  Heaping blessings onto the heads of spiritual brats only makes them more bratty.  Consider what would happen if we gave little Johnny a present every time he was rude to his mother—is this kind of reward system going to make Johnny want to improve his manners?  No, he’s going to become even more rude to his mother because he sees he’s being rewarded for it.  Johnny needs to be disciplined if he’s going to find the motivation to start respecting his mother, and the ruder Johnny is being, the more harsh the discipline will need to be to make him change course.  This is how it works with humans, and yet in Kyrie Eleison, you instruct Christ to “Let kindness lead us to repentance.”  You’re telling Christ to do things backwards: to heal the land, and remove trials from the lives of those who are defying Him because in your delusional mind, you’ve decided that living the blessed life will magically motivate spiritual brats to start respecting Christ.  Really?  Do you think Christ has apples for brains?  How can you propose such an absurd strategy to the God who created humans?

When it comes to handling His own creations, Christ certainly doesn’t need you to give Him tips.  When we tell any of our Gods how to manage human affairs, we’re hardly talking to Them like the Supreme Authorities that They are.  Instead, we’re talking down to Them as if They don’t yet understand the best way to handle human beings.  In this song, you’re saying to Christ, “Here’s a tip, Lord: be nice to us.  Take our problems away.  Make life sweet for us and then perhaps we’ll decide to repent.  You have to try and win us over with kindness—none of this rough stuff.”  You’re trying to bargain, and while you’re at it, you’re making a lot of insulting insinuations about Christ’s Character.  “Lord, have mercy,” you cry as if your Creators have been withholding mercy from you all this time.  And yet by the time you’re old enough and educated enough to understand what we’re saying in this post, Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have heaped oceans of mercy down on your head.  Instead of whining for more of what you already have, you should be acknowledging how much They’ve already given you and thanking Them for treating you so graciously.

After telling Christ that He should be extra sweet to the souls who are currently giving Him attitude, you go on to the chorus of this snarky song in which you try to remind Christ that He’s supposed to be gracious in Character.

[ Chorus] For Your Name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison
Over all You reign; You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy on us now
[x2]

If Christ really has a “heart of grace,” wouldn’t He already be acting merciful towards human beings?  Yes, and He is.  You’re still here, aren’t you?  You’re not in Hell yet, despite the fact that you’ve done your share of rebelling.  The fact that Christ is putting up with you singing such a rotten song at Him demonstrates what a gracious Guy He is, and yet by the time you sing this chorus two times in a row, you’ve told Christ to have mercy on humans eight times.  So while you tell Him that He has a heart full of grace, you obviously don’t mean it.  Would you tell a woman, “Hey, you’re a natural beauty—but please go put on some make up right away.  You really need some.  Don’t delay. Bring on that make up.  Your face is in desperate need.  Oh, but you’re a natural beauty for sure.”  See the problem?  Telling God that He’s gracious in Character while you keep pleading for Him to be merciful just doesn’t work.  And why you’re daring to talk so rudely to Christ while you openly admit that He reigns over everything—well, that’s just how absurd Christians are today.  We’re famous for singing songs at God in which we insult Him ten different ways, only to then throw in some compliment as if that will somehow make it all okay. And yet it’s really not okay to talk to any of your Creators the way you’re talking to Christ in this song.

We now come to the second verse of this bomb, in which you continue your efforts to try and pressure Christ in making your problems go away by reminding Him of how He’s supposed to be acting.

[Verse 2] Who is this God who pardons all our sin, so ready to forgive?
You delight to show Your mercy
Who is this God who pardons all our sin, so ready to forgive?
You delight to show Your mercy
Who is this God who pardons all our sin, so ready to forgive?
You delight to show Your mercy
Who is this God who pardons all our sin, so ready to forgive?
You delight to show Your mercy

[Chorus] For Your Name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison
[repeat Chorus]

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy on us now

As you can see, Tomlin is relying heavily on repetition in this song by repeating the same tiresome lyrics over and over again. Remember that you began this song by referring to a troubled land that was in need of healing and a bunch of rebels who were currently refusing to repent.  Then you began begging Christ to start acting merciful—the clear implication being that you felt He was currently withholding mercy.  After begging a merciless Christ to “hear our cry” and “heal our land,” and then singing a chorus in which you begged Him to  have mercy eight times, it comes across as more than a little false when you wax on in Verse 2 about how Christ delights in showing mercy.  If that’s really how you view Christ, you wouldn’t be singing a song called Kyrie EleisonInstead, you’d be praising Christ for all of the mercy He’s already giving you.

So what’s the real truth about Christ—does He like being merciful or not?  He does.  All three of our Gods are extremely gracious and merciful Beings.  You see, the problem is not that Christ is withholding mercy—the problem is that you’re refusing to recognize the mercy that He is already flooding the planet with.  It’s precisely because Christ is such a gracious Being that He doesn’t smote you when you keep whining at Him to be merciful while you refuse to thank Him for the mercy He’s already giving you.  Tomlin takes just under four minutes to make it all the way through this tiresome song.  In those four minutes, he begs Christ to have mercy on people 18 times.  How gracious would you be towards a human who insulted you 18 times in four minutes?  And yes, it is extremely insulting to ask a Being like Christ to have mercy on the general human race when the evidence of His mercy is right in front of your face.

CONCLUSION

As we explain in our end time material, God’s patience with spiritual rebellion is going to be notably shorter during the end times (see Divine Judgment in the End Times: Dealing with a Less Patient God).  What this means for you is that you need to start putting a lot more thought into the things you say to God.  As we have explained, Chris Tomlin’s Kyrie Eleison is grossly insulting to Christ with its excessive demands for mercy, it’s false compliments, and it’s pathetic attempt to try and educate Christ about the best way to handle spiritual rebels.

The real end times are going to be marked by the mass destruction of both lives and property.  Problems will abound, and God isn’t going to “heal our land” no matter how much we beg Him to.  Once the end times begin, Christian leaders are going to really pressure you to join them in incessantly nagging at God to put an end to the destruction and make everything happy again.  You will see denominations coming together in a rare spirit of unity in order to boost their numbers and amp up the power of their prayers as they all blast God with their demands.  All of the usual manipulation tactics will be employed: praying around the clock, everyone praying the same snarky prayer that some famous name threw together.  There will be massive Christian conventions held in which the leaders who are perceived as having the most influence will get up and tell you that you ought to pray against God’s end time prophet, blame all the damage on Satan, and keep nagging God to get off the stick and stop the chaos.  Worship leaders will get up and try and lead you in songs which insult your Gods in countless ways.  You’ll be hyped up on fear and pressured into donating money to endless charity efforts.  What are you going to do in the midst of these things?  Are you going to leave your spine in bed, shelve your respect for God, and just go along with the throng because you don’t want to be seen as a non-conformist?  Are you going to be so stupid as to actually side against the Power that is crippling your country just so you can earn the approval of Christian leaders who have lost all reverence for God?

We can try to hide out in groups on earth, but we are judged by God as individuals.  Now is the time for you to give serious thought as to where your loyalties are going to lie during the end times.  When God is doing things which terrify you, part of you is going to want to start giving Him the “Kyrie eleison” treatment.  But you need to stop and think about Who it is you’re talking to and ask God to help you treat Him with the honor and respect He deserves.  No one is more gracious, merciful and kind than Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  But They have other qualities as well, and ignoring those other qualities in the songs you sing doesn’t make them disappear.  Christ is a lot more than just mercy, and even His abundant mercy has limits. We’re not treating God with respect when we refuse to acknowledge things like His wrath and jealousy.  We’re not treating Him like God when we start instructing Him on how He ought to respond to human rebellion.  Ask your Creators to help you improve the way you talk to Them and They will.  But if you refuse to ask Them after They’ve convicted you to do so, then singing fifty rounds of Kyrie Eleison won’t shield you from experiencing the limits of Their patience.

FURTHER READING:
2 Chronicles 6-7: Why We Shouldn’t Ask God to Heal Our Land
Treating God Like God: Simple Steps to Improving the Way that We Pray
Horrible Repentance Songs: SOUL ON FIRE by Third Day
Confession Worship Songs: The Heart of Worship
Rethinking Your Christian Rituals

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