The Weakness of Hallelujah
Hallelujah is an unusual word, all told.
It’s not really one word, until it makes its way into the book of Revelation. Jesus never said it. It doesn’t actually appear in the Psalms. But it’s there, in the Bible, as a transliteration of two Hebrew words. Nicki Minaj and Leonard Cohen and Chris Cornell and Jeff Buckley(yes, I do know who wrote it) all sang it in various songs. Of course, it appears in Christian hymns, both historic and contemporary. And people say it without meaning it perhaps as much as they say the name God. Which fits, in its way.
But the word, or the Hebrew combination of words, does something to me.
The first word is hallel. A hallel is a praise, a song, an expression of our feeling of worship. The literal word means to shine. And I like that, because something that shines is, by its nature, passive. The moon exerts no effort in giving us light. It doesn’t work very hard to be a celestial beauty. In the coming eclipse, it’s not going to do anything at all. It just shines.
The second word is the shortened form of the word Yahweh. Yah. Jah. Hallel Yahweh. Hallel Yah. HallelJah. Halleluja.
And I think of that word and I feel the weight of its weightlessness. The freedom it affords to my troubled heart.
Growing up, there was bad theology all around me. Toxic might be a better word. One of the worst parts of it came from music. Carman, for instance. There was a song called “7 Ways to Praise” and it really was just a mess of proof texting and quasi-Hebrew. It was catchy, as all his songs were, but it did nothing to lead my heart to Jesus.
Instead, it turned my focus on myself. As though there were light I was generating, for this world, from somewhere deep inside. And sometimes Jesus was just a footnote. Take, for example, the song, “Our Turn Now.” I’m not going to quote it all because it makes me angry, but here’s a snippet:
The ball got dropped in ’62
They wouldn’t let children pray in school
Violent crime began to rise
The grades went down and the kids got high
Free love, gay rights
No absolutes, abortion on demand
Brought VD, AIDS, and no morality
Today no one knows right from wrong
There’s blood on people’s hands
World, you had your turn at bat
Now stand back and see
That it’s our turn now
Something’s gonna change
We’re gonna bind the devil
At every hand by the power of Jesus’ name
Well, it’s our turn now, think it no surprise
When the gates of hell come crashing down
And you begin to see the church arise
This is supposed to be Christian song. This song belongs at a Trump rally, and there they should just drop the casual use of Jesus’ name because it’s no more worshipful than Nicki Minaj singing hallelujah in B.o.B.’s song, Outta My Mind.
Quite literally, Carman connects the lack of prayer in school to crime, drug use, sexual immorality, abortion, STDs, and societal/moral collapse. He then says that it’s “our” turn now. To quote(I know it’s not a direct quote) Tonto, “Who is this ‘we’ white man?” And how are we going to change everything? How are we going to rise up in self-righteous religious revolt? Well. It seems we’re going to get control, and then once we’re there, we’re going to… attack… the Devil. Somehow. There might be ropes.
In case it wasn’t brutally obvious, this song isn’t about Jesus. It’s about us. Or, them. It terminates on ourselves. We are our own best hope. We are our own best salvation. And what does our salvation look like? Well, I would assume kids would be forced to pray to a God they may or may not believe in, in school. And the result of this return to a time when there were still Jim Crow laws on the books? Well, obviously there will be less crime, drugs, sex, and implicitly, rock’n’roll.
This song doesn’t shine. It, instead, glows with a putrid radiation sourced from some sinful core. It doesn’t reflect the beauty of Jesus to a world in chaos. Instead, it proposes that we are strong through our use of Jesus to change the world and make it our image and that He will support our cause.
But hallelujah. Oh hallelujah. It tells me to reflect His glory. It tells me to delight in Him, to gaze on Him, to lose myself, in Him. It tells me to sing, yes, but also to sigh in my despair… towards Him. Hallelujah doesn’t waste time fiddling about with me. It is both command and comfort.
It’s not my turn now. It’s always been His. And it always will be.