This post combines two subjects that I felt relate to each other very well. So if it seems scattered, read all the way through and hopefully it will all make sense.

Disclaimer: There are some words that may offend sensitive ears. You’ve been warned.

“I’ll praise You Even when it hurts like hell” are lyrics from Even When It Hurts off Hillsong United’s 2015 Empires album. At first I though it was a bit risque to use the word hell in a lyric like that especially with today’s use of the word. If you take today’s CCM as our modern day Psalms, this will make sense to you.

Eugene Peterson, Author of The Message and other books, made a point in a recent meeting with Bono, singer of U2, that “The Psalms are not pretty, they’re not nice…. It’s honest…” Raw if you will. “I think we’re trying for honesty. Which is very very hard in our culture.” If we were honest with ourselves, how would some of us really describe our daily lives? Pretty? sure. Nice? maybe. Crappy? We all have those days. Hellish? If you asked someone who just lost everything good in their life, I’d bet at least in their head they’re thinking they’re going through Hell with the Devil constantly attacking them. Trying to keep their eyes on God and not lose hope. Trying to put a mask on and act like they’re not hurting on the inside.

“I’m talking about dishonestly…” To me, Bono is trying to say that too many times Christian artists are trying to put their best foot forward and only address the good times in life. “Write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you. That Truth… And that truthfulness… it will blow things apart.” To be honest, I think this is what Hillsong was going for. It made us question things about them. Heck for some it even made us question ourselves and take a deeper look at things.

“Realism” is the term Bono used to describe what he wanted to see more of in Christian art in general. Real isn’t popular. Real is pretty. Real isn’t feel good at times. Real is raw, dirty, and ugly at times. Life can’t be rainbows and Unicorns all the time. That’s just living in a false reality.

I feel more times than not, that anytime music gets “real” and blunt, it gets thrown in the “Emo” genres. If a song about a breakup doesn’t have a catchy beat or doesn’t make you feel good after listening to it, it’s not going to be the popular opinion. This is what seemed to happen to Hillsong’s song. When it first came out, every other post on the worship forums seemed to be on the topic of hell being used in a worship song. One time recently I brought up on a post by someone a few months behind everyone asking why this instance of hell being used is so different from the lyrics from In Christ Alone (“No pow’r of hell”)? Yes ” No power of hell, no scheme of man” is a nicer way to put “Even though life is hell right now and the world seems against me, I’m going to focus on God to get through this.” Honestly, why candy coat it? We all have struggles we’re going through and when we’re talking to God about it, we don’t sugar coat anything. At least I don’t.

To keep with the topic of U2 and The Message, let me pull some verses out of Psalm 40:

11Now God, don’t hold out on me, don’t hold back your passion. Your love and truth are all that keeps me together.
12 When troubles ganged up on me, a mob of sins past counting, I was so swamped by guilt I couldn’t see my way clear. More guilt in my heart than hair on my head, so heavy the guilt that my heart gave out.
13 Soften up, God, and intervene; hurry and get me some help,
14 So those who are trying to kidnap my soul will be embarrassed and lose face, So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable will be heckled and disgraced,
15 So those who pray for my ruin will be booed and jeered without mercy.

17 I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing: make something of me. You can do it; you’ve got what it takes – but God, don’t put it off.

In today’s church, I don’t think you’d see too many people publicly being that raw. We’ve made Him like this “friend” that if you say something wrong to He’s going to leave us there if we get too… aggressive in our asking of things.

“SOFTEN UP, GOD.” Literal translation in a modern saying, “Lighten up, man.” Not the usual passive “in Your time, Lord” is it? It’s honest. Raw. Ugly and borderline rude by today’s standard for talking to someone in authority over us. God is our Father and needs to be our best friend. If we’re going through a hard time in life, we’re not going to go to our best friend to talk and be passive. Nor are we going to be passive if we really need our parents help or advice. We have feelings and sometimes we just have to let them out.

According to Peterson, “We need to find a way to cuss without cussing. And the Psalms surely do that. They just lay it out…” Paraphrasing here: “We’ve got to have someway withing the context of our bible to tell people how mad we are.” Psalm 116:3: The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. The Message puts this verse as “Death stared me in the face, hell was hard on my heels. Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn”

I guess you could say that Bono really put things in perspective for me. Like in the instance of using “hell” in Christian music, It’s not like we’re saying “go to hell” or holding the hand of the Devil while we’re trying to find what we’re looking for in life. It’s releasing the raw, real, unedited emotion of hitting rock bottom. If we’re really that upset about someone actually being down to earth in a worship song, maybe we’re the ones that need to check our hearts. May we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Original interview: