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The Audacity of Hallelujah

In his poem, “A Footnote to All Prayers,” C. S. Lewis insisted whenever we speak to God we must acknowledge,

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou, … And all men are idolators, crying unheard To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word. Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great, Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Saint Augustine expressed it succinctly in his small book, On Christian Teaching, “God, although nothing worthy of His greatness can be said of Him, has condescended to accept our praise.”

This is one of the most remarkable paradoxes of the Christian life. The more one realizes how no expression of praise could possibly be worthy of God, the more one feels compelled to shout Hallelujah! It is nothing short of audacious that for the past two thousand years believers have gathered every day to worship Him whom they know they could never adequately worship.

Our inadequacy is hardly reason to abandon theological reflection. Nor is it reason to ignore the fellowship of the saints. Before God and among each other we Christians are not meant to reach perfection, rather we are wounded souls together “limping” to worship. Because we stumble along the way of life, what we know about God and how we react to our knowledge will always involve some discomfort. Picture not the pious woman with calloused knees; instead think of the same pious woman tripped up with skinned and bloody knees, but nonetheless shouting, “Praise God!” It is the kind of picture that might tempt some of us to try to strike out on our own, in a less theological and ecclesiastical but more comfortable direction. For the past two thousand years believers have chosen this individualist path, too. Yet, there is nothing audacious about lonely comfort.

Fellowship in worship is the antidote to the discomfort of God’s ineffability. It would be nothing short of terrifying to proclaim with the Psalmist, “You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told,” if we never heard someone next to us exclaim, “That’s exactly how I feel, too!”

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