Moving lyrics, memorable melodies, and stirring music have a way of endearing the gospel deep into our hearts. But there is also a dark side to this powerful gift of song and music—stretching the poetic license so far that one begins to sentimentalise the love of God. In doing this, we can sometimes forget the truth, beauty, and great assurance of God’s immutability.
But a sound grasp and appreciation of the doctrine of God’s immutably will help worshippers to avoid sentimentalising God’s love.
The Beauty of God’s Immutability
The doctrine of God’s immutability simply means his nature is unchanging. The immutability of God does not mean God is stoic. It means, contrary to what some songs suggest, he is not surprised or swept away or forced by his emotions as we are by our own. Our emotions alter our commitments and shake our integrity. But God’s nature is immutable and unchanging, in and through all his emotions.
God is not without emotions. He is full of them. But he is also immutable. He is unchanging. He is impassible. His emotions do not wax and wane like our own. God is an unmovable rock in every storm. We are but feathers blown with the slightest breeze of emotion.
God’s immutability is a historically tested and affirmed “A-level” doctrine. The Catechisms of the Reformation—the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Canons of Dort (1619), and the Westminster Catechism (1647)—all affirm God is immutable.
The Danger of Sentimentalising God’s Love
One way of sentimentalising the love of God is to assume his emotional being is similar to the low and fallen nature of our own.
Most post-modern cultures do not directly reject the love of God. On the contrary, post-moderns can live with a sense of entitlement that a good God ought to love them and everyone else, despite our sins.
In reality, post-moderns reject the love of God by only embracing a sentimentalised version of God’s love. They end up rejecting his immutability, impassibility, steadfastness, and holiness.
Our emotions alter our commitments and shake our integrity. But God’s nature is immutable and unchanging, in and through all his emotions.
The influence of post-modernism can affect worship leaders, songwriters, and worshippers when songs over-emphasise a sentimentalised notion of God’s love for us.
Conversely, they can under-emphasise, ignore, undermine, or even unwittingly reject his eternal, immutable, and unchanging nature. None of us is immune to this influence. It can happen in any band or denomination that produces Christian music. It can happen to any worshipper and to any church.
My chief concern lies in the way the worship leader in every local church may end up unwittingly feeding the congregation with a diet of only sentimental songs. While a specific song alone may not distort the love of God to a dangerous extent, I am concerned we are being fed an unhealthy diet of too many songs that do this just a little bit.
I shudder to think of the combined impact of a barrage of sentimentalised songs on congregations, especially given the acute lack of songs that movingly call us to also ponder on God’s immutability or impassibility.
My chief concern lies in the way the worship leader in every local church may end up unwittingly feeding the congregation with a diet of only sentimental songs.
Sentimentalised songs can lead us to celebrate and receive the forgiving love of God, but they can equally lead us to ignore or harden our hearts to the disciplining and transforming love of God.
As more and more songs sentimentalise the love of God just a little bit and become increasingly popular, worship leaders—in big and small churches—will face a real threat.
We are going to be vulnerable to misreading any momentary and fleshly response of the congregation as a “move of the Holy Spirit.” We may be lured to wrongly assume that these kinds of songs “work better.” Even pastors and Bible teachers may subconsciously allow such songs to shape their preaching.
Worshippers too start listening, enjoying, singing, and longing for songs that offer only an unreal and sentimentalised notion of God’s love, ignoring aspects of his loving discipline.
Singing songs that soothe our hearts by liltingly calling us to enjoy God’s tender embrace, but forgetting that God also expresses his infinite love for us by disciplining us through the many hardships of life can lead us to a sentimentalised, unrealistic notion of God’s love.
Imagine songs with these lyrics: “Lord, discipline me because you love me” (Heb. 12:6). Imagine songs that welcome and celebrate God’s loving discipline through hardship.
The rod of life’s hardship in hand
You are steadfast in your love for me
May I never turn weary in your loving reproof
But may your loving discipline
draw me into the joys of my eternal adoption
Have you ever heard or sung anything like this in the past five years? Worshippers, songwriters, worship leaders, pastors: may we never forsake the God who is immutable by allowing our songs to reduce him to a God our sinful selves want him to be.