Thoughts on Hillsong’s "Even When it Hurts" from a Songwriter/Worship Leader
I’ve been thinking about Hillsong’s somewhat controversial new tune Even When it Hurts, and if it’s worth my concern or not. I’ve watched the official lyric video and read the viewer comments. It seems to resonate with a lot of people. It’s a nicely written song. The melody seems like it might take a few times to latch onto, though.
But it’s the lyric “even when it hurts like hell, I’ll praise You.” that has our attention. Oh boy.
In defense of this song, Hillsong’s Pastor Robert Fergusson said on his blog "We live in a desperately broken world. Occasionally, it feels as if hell itself has been unleashed. Of course, we know our victory and safety is in Christ, but it still hurts. The psalmists were never afraid to express their true feelings to God in their laments and I don't think we should be either."
True, the Psalms can be pretty grim. It doesn’t get any more bleak than Psalm 22. At times the psalmists do reference the place of the dead as Sheol. “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. “(Psalm 49:14 ESV) We also find this verse: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8 ESV) And, like the song Even When it Hurts, the writer is pouring out his heart to the Lord (of Heaven and Earth and Sheol).
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But I have yet to find an example, especially in The Psalms, where the writer uses a word that is held to be a curse word in addressing the Lord of Hosts. Although Psalm 55:15 does say “Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.” (ESV). Taken to extremes, I suppose this could suggest that the writer is wishing that his enemies would go to hell. But it’s a righteous anger and the writer is distraught and in anguish over the evil words and deeds of the wicked.
Increasingly, the word 'hell' is not being seen as a curse word, or we’re being asked to excuse the use of it. It’s rampant in all forms of media. I view it as a decline in our culture. My opinion is that it's base and shows a lack of vocabulary. That's just my cultural view.
As a songwriter, it seems almost lazy to just write “it hurts like hell” rather than dig deeper for another expression of pain.
From a spiritual perspective I find that Scripture tells us to watch what comes out of our mouth. We can cause weaker Believers to stumble, or at least be confused, by our casual use of swear words. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control and I believe that the Holy Spirit help us to mature and control our tongues, even in moments of anxiety or anger. For me, the most important consideration is: “would I feel comfortable singing this song to the Lord? Could I plan and prepare to use this word in the context of a worship service?” I just could not. To utter a word in frustration, or from a place of hurt and sorrow, is one thing, but to purposely include it in a worship song seems to be very inappropriate. (But I’m also not a fan of that ‘sloppy wet kiss’ lyric.) I want to approach a Holy God with my best. Hopefully not from a legalistic attitude, but out of reverence and love. With all of my heart, I don’t want to offend Him.
As a worship leader I know what it’s like to tell my wife and my pastor I hurt so bad that I don’t want to live any longer - and then take the platform to lead a worship service. I get it. I really do. And there is more power than you can imagine when we chose to worship the Lord from a place of total despair and hopelessness. There is victory to be found in declaring the greatness and goodness of our God.
I must confess that I’ve never used a lot of songs from Hillsong when leading worship. I don’t know why. They’re Pentecostal, I’m Pentecostal. They like modern music, I like modern music. They are a mega-church, I go to a …… well, that’s where the similarities end.
Over the years I’ve heard some musician friends of mine denigrate Hillsong tunes and I’ve tried, for the most part, to stay out of those arguments. I don’t think much is gained by bad-mouthing another ministry. Maybe that’s just one more reason why I think, as Christians, we must carefully consider the words that we speak. So with that in mind, I think I’ll just take Pastor Fergusson’s advice of "If you don't like our song, please feel free not to sing it." (They probably wouldn’t like my songs either).
These are some passages of Scripture that I find helpful in regards to this topic:
You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Lev. 20:26) But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy. (1Peter 15:16) Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:10,11) Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29) And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4) But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, (2 Timothy 2:16) But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment. (James 5:12) Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6)