I like sad songs. I don’t mean sappy love songs or My Chemical Romance or anything like that, but more somber forms of instrumental or sacred music—take the Agnus Dei sung after Samuel Barber’s Adagio, for example. I know that makes me a minority, but I think there’s good reason for the evangelical church to depart from its quest to happify everything it touches and reclaim some of the more somber, minor, reflective songs in its worship. Here are five reasons:
- Jesus is capable of complex emotion, and the Scripture records for us a range of emotions that he felt—joyful, angry, betrayed, mournful, etc.—but he is still described as a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). If we want to know the mind of Christ more fully, we can’t do it by pretending we don’t live in a broken world full of broken people. We need to recover, in Michael Card’s words, “The lost language of lament.”
- The chances are slim to none that your church is full of nothing but happy people without a care on their minds every Sunday. Grieving, sad, depressed, at-wits-end, betrayed people come to church every week. While its true that they need to be lifted out of despair by the gospel of the risen Christ, there is also an incredible need for those grieving people to find a communal, godly, God-directed outlet for their grief.
- Unless Ecclesiastes is totally bunk, then we must admit that it is indeed “better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Songs like Abide With Me, Fast Falls the Eventide or Be Still, My Soul teach us aspects of wisdom and godliness which we cannot learn from a liturgy which only gives voice to the bright side of human worship and experience.
- When a person dies, we need songs to sing at their funeral. I don’t think this is trivial—if our communal language of worship has no words for grief, what does that do to us as body? It makes us shallow, miserable comforters whose approach to grieving people is to try to get them to look at the sunny side as soon as possible, and to be distracted until then.
- When an individual goes through suffering, that person needs a stock of songs in their mind that they can sing in suffering. What are they going to sing? Where will they have learned it? Hopefully our people are being equipped in church so that when the storms of life come, they have sad songs of trust in Jesus in the midst of suffering that they can sing while they wait for deliverance.
In the single Psalm of Moses that we have in the Psalter, he teaches us to pray “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). But that prayer only comes after this one: “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Deepest gladness and rejoicing come to a church who can mourn, reflect, and cry out to God in sadness before letting the Lord satisfy us in the morning with his steadfast love.