The Wounded Worshiper
Maryann B. Hunsberger
Copyright Christianity Today International
Twenty-five years of composing music, writing books, creating Bible study material and garnering awards haven't given Michael Card immunity from sorrow. After he watched his 18-year-old nephew and two infant nieces die, Card embarked on a journey to learn how grief brings us closer to God. His new album, The Hidden Face of God, follows his book, A Sacred Sorrow. Card shared with us about why both projects are devoted to the topic of grief, about the church in America and about true worship.You've written a book and an album about sorrow. What was your inspiration for all this lamenting?Michael Card My brother's oldest son died in 1999. My sister lost two infants four or five years before that. My mother lost a child before I was born. That has always been simmering on the back burner of my mind. What made me finally think about it, act on it, and write about it was 9/11. It was a wake-up call. The book, A Sacred Sorrow, came out of those experiences. The new record came out of my work on the book.On your new album, The Hidden Face of God, the song, "How Long?" talks about God hiding his presence from us. Did you feel that way?Card When my nephew died, it was a long, drawn-out cancer, and I was thinking more about trying to support my brother. When my sister lost her first child, the child was blind, had an open spine and many other birth defects. The child died after two months. I could see the sense in that. When my sister lost her second child 13 months later, it really affected me. The child died at two months old of a ruptured appendix. In many ways, our family fragmented and never recovered from that. My sister and her husband divorced and my brother and his wife split up. It was devastating for our family. That was when I had the big struggle and questions. And I shook my fist at God.Why is it so tough when God seems to be indifferent to our suffering?Card God has revealed himself to us as a loving God, the person who gives us everything. When something happens that is so inconsistent with that, it's a problem. When he seems to be silent, it makes it even worse. There's a great book calling Naming the Silences by Stanley Hauer was about how God uses silence when we are suffering. God is most intent on giving us himself, not giving us things. At the end of the book of Job, he doesn't get his things back. Job gets God back. It's a whole reorientation in our relationship with God to see him not as a provider who gives us things, but to see him as intent on giving himself to us. How has this knowledge changed you? Card People come up to me and share about things that have happened to them. The impulse is always to try to fix things, but I don't talk at people anymore. I'm now able to enter into their pain and cry with them. Job's friends blamed him for his suffering. Christians often tend to do the same thing to other Christians. Why is that?Card Other people's suffering is threatening to people because it goes against their formula where if you're good, God blesses you, and if you're bad, God punishes you. When people see others suffering, they can't understand it. They come up with easy answers because they feel threatened that it could happen to them. My sister and brother had people telling them if they just had enough faith, their children wouldn't have died.Why is it important that Christians "weep every unwept tear," as your song "Come Lift up Your Sorrows" says?Card Lamenting is the truest experience of worship. In Psalm 51, David forfeited everything because of Bathsheba and realized that God didn't want his bulls and goats. He wanted his broken spirit and contrite heart. He looked at his life and realized that all he had left is what God wanted in the first place. A friend was out on a pastoral call when a drunk driver hit his car and paralyzed him. He was lamenting when he powerfully experienced God's presence. When the immediacy of that presence started to leave, he cried out, "You don't have to heal me. Just don't leave me." He realized he needed God's presence more than God's provision. What else does grieving accomplish?Card The miracle of the book of Job is that our tears move God. In chapter 1, God is on the throne in heaven. In a later chapter, he is at Job's side. Job says, "My ears have heard of you, but now my eyes see you." Tears are a bridge to God. When you look at the cross, you see that God uses suffering to save the world. Does God welcome our lamenting? Card He tells us, "Be hot or cold. Whatever you do, don't be lukewarm." I think he'd rather us be angry with him than deny that he exists. When we're hurting, we have the choice of not speaking to him or of really experiencing him. Job said horrible things for which he had to apologize, but he didn't say that God doesn't exist. Jacob wrestled with the angel and said, "I will not let go." That's what my song "I Will Not Walk Away from You" is about. I may say the wrong things. I may believe the wrong things. Yet, I'm not walking away. I'm not giving up. I'm not quitting. You ultimately find that you can make those statements because he's been holding onto you the whole time.
Why, then, do some Christians think it's disrespectful to complain to God? Card We're taught that it is a sign of weakness, but nothing in the Bible tells us not to cry or mourn. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn." He did something no other leader did—he broke down and wept in front of his people. How does someone "worship God with their wounds," like you sing in "Come Lift up Your Sorrows"? Card We can't worship God without recognizing our woundedness. We have a worship revolution going on in the U.S., but we're not worshiping. There is no woundedness in it. True worship celebrates God's worth, and without experiencing woundedness, you don't know his worth. You don't have that experience of God's presence over God's provision. You experience his worth in the wilderness, not in the picnic grounds. "Amazing Grace" says, "I once was lost, but now am found." Without that acknowledgment of loss, what do you have to worship him for, unless you're just worshiping feeling good? Lament is the lost language of worship.What do you think of today's worship music? Card Many people are doing good work and trying to listen to the Scriptures and to where people's needs are, but the majority of worship music is an industrial response to a trend.The insights you give in this album are rare in Christian music. Why don't we hear more lyrics like this?Card When an industry, rather than a community, creates music, it will lean toward what sells best. Many people are writing great stuff, but we won't ever hear it because of the industry. The early Jesus music came out of community. John Michael Talbot says there was a holiness to Christian music back then that it doesn't tend to have now. That's not to say God can't use the Christian music industry, because he does.An overemphasis on music, rather than lyrics, is part of it. Many songwriters are very young, too. You have to look harder to find what your heart resonates with, but you can find it. Andrew Petersen is one of the greatest writers today. Yet, nobody had ever recorded one of his songs before. "The Silence of God," which is on my record, is his. Sara Groves is a great writer. People like them need more support from the industry. You also recorded Michael Kelley Blanchard's "To a Broken God." You normally write your own songs. Why did you use other artists' songs this time? Card Laments are so hard to write. When I heard Andrew's and Michael's, I knew I couldn't do better. "How Long?" was on an earlier album of yours. Why did you rerecord it with jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum?Card It's from Psalm 13, which is a primary lament, so it fit. I originally recorded it with an orchestra, but I wanted it done differently this time. Here's a typical industry thing: When I played the song for some radio people, they came back and said it would be great without the sax. The sax was the whole idea!Why did you include the African-American spiritual, "Walk with Me, Lord"?Card I go to a black church and that's my pastor singing it. He was a Black Panther back in the '60s. That was his mother's favorite song, so almost every time he sings it, he cries. I played the banjo on it because slaves invented the banjo. It's the only truly American instrument.
You work with WorldServe Ministries. Tell me about your interest in the suffering church.Card I started with the Bible League thinking I'd take time from my busy schedule to help the persecuted church. I smuggled Bibles into places that couldn't get Bibles. Then, once I went, I realized I am a spiritual pygmy who got more than I gave. I was with a guy in China who was in prison for his faith for 22 years. That was a great dose of perspective. WorldServe recognizes the suffering church as a resource, as living examples of real Christianity. They are strong in ways where we are so weak. One of the prophets said, "You say you're strong, but you're weak, poor, pitiful and blind." That's how it is with the American church. I feel much more at home in an underground church in China, Vietnam or Cuba. They worship as one and lament together. © Maryann B. Hunsberger, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.