Leonard Cohen wrote the beautiful song “Hallelujah” that begins simply, “Now I heard there was a secret chord/That David played and it pleased the Lord.”
It’s a powerful, sad, song. It’s filled with imagery of hurt, of pain, of suffering. Sometimes Christians and others try to co-opt this song by making it happier. But it’s not. Some want a moratorium placed on this song so it won’t be sung for some time because it’s over done. But I don’t think so. Why? It’s a broken, sad hallelujah.
In fact, in the song we hear, “Baby I’ve been here before/I know this room, I’ve walked this floor/I used to live alone before I knew you/I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch/Love is not a victory march/It’s cold and a broken hallelujah.”
Hallelujah is from the Hebrew which literally means “Praise the LORD.” And not just Lord but the LORD. In the NIV and other translations, when you see LORD written like this, it means that God’s name is actually written in the Hebrew (YHWH), Yahweh). And God, the LORD is called upon in time of praise but also in times of lament. A lament is a crying out, a plea, a song of sadness to God.
The Psalms in the Bible are filled with laments to God.
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? how long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13:1
“Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.” Psalm 88:1-2
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint” Psalm 61:1-2
These are songs, these are prayers, these are broken hallelujahs to God.
On the cross as he was in pain and agony, Jesus cried out broken hallelujahs. He cries out in a loud voice:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, another lament, another broken hallelujah
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” Psalm 22:1-2
These are broken hallelujahs.
Too many times people think that Christianity is all happy-clappy being blessed (especially by other Christians). But that is far from the truth. Yes, there are mountain top experiences. Yes, there are times where followers of Jesus feel especially close to God, to Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But those are actually few and far between. In the middle of the mountains you have the mundanity of life. And other times you have the valleys of faith.This is when singing broken hallelujahs comes in.
When the valleys hit, when God feels distant, when things aren’t going the way they seem, when love feels cold, we sing broken hallelujahs. We sing them with tears in our eyes. We sing them with quivering lips and pounding hearts and broken souls. We sing these broken hallelujahs.
In the lament of Psalm 22 we read this:
“But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” Psalm 22:19
In the lament of Psalm 13, it ends with this:
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13: 5-6
It only takes the faith the size of a mustard seed to say that. But it’s still hard to say it when you’re in the middle of singing broken hallelujahs.
When you’re in the middle of singing broken hallelujahs, it’s okay to sing them. God has given us words to use even in these broken hallelujahs as found in the Psalms of lament. Be willing to sing broken hallelujahs. Be willing to sing them boldly, crying out to God, seeking the LORD’s face in your tears and pain and quivering lips. Sing your broken hallelujahs.
This is beautiful. I see the ability to lament as the sign of a healthy faith, one that is willing to plumb the depths knowing we are in God’s Hands Who plumbed the depths before us. Thank you for this article, drawing out attention to real life, truth in the inward parts. How encouraging.
Thanks for your comment. Glad you found it encouraging.
It's often in the brokenness, and in the desert places that growth and new life are born. Christ came to suffer and die; we are called to follow him. Sometimes it's in the suffering, and the many deaths we experience, that we find our true life. "Unless a seed falls to the ground ...". As counter-cultural as it is, especially among Christians, embracing the tragedy of life can be the best way forward.
Thanks so much for posting this! It's a good reminder of the key value of lament. Let's not neglect this important component of our faith. Thanks again.
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