I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah...
Leonard Cohen has died so you'll be hearing a lot of his most famous song.
It's worth a listen. Not just because of the great, lilting, melancholic tune. But because the lyrics are a fascinating commentary on our culture and it's view of Christianity.
The song starts with King David falling for bathtub beauty Bathsheba. It continues with Samson being deceived by the delicious delights of Deliah into disobeying God by having a hair cut. (Cohen seems to have got his Bible stories a little blended at this stage!) And it ends with the verse above.
The message appears to be that you have to go with your feelings when it comes to love. They're certain. Tangible. Real. But all this God stuff is decidedly uncertain. Unknowable. Abstract. And in the end the Lord will know I've been sincere. True to myself. Done my best.
You can see why it's an appealing message. But a hopeless one. You're left without knowing whether you've loved enough or been good enough. Left sifting through your life, picking through the memories, trying to remember the joy and forget the pain.
The word Hallelujah is used loads in the Bible. Mostly in the Psalms. It means "Praise the Lord!"
When it's used in the Bible it always is in response to what God is like and what he has done. One of my favourite Psalms begins and ends with Hallelujah. It's Psalm 103.
The message is very different to Cohen's self-centred song.
Rather than saying it doesn't matter too much what you do, as long as you're true to yourself. It says that there is a God who loves you despite your selfishness and forgives you all your mistakes and disobedience.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)
Cohen's song wasn't upbeat. You never danced to it. You listened in a darkened room while drinking whisky. Maybe that's because going with your feelings and doing your best never deals with that nagging sense of guilt and shame. It doesn't help us deal with the fact that we have hurt others and failed to be the people we should be.
But when the Bible writers use Hallelujah they want the band to rock.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:3-6)
They're rejoicing in the freedom given by knowing God. Truly. Tangibly. With certainty. The God who has made himself known in His is Son Jesus. And through Jesus death and resurrection, assured us that we're loved forever.