Cheering for God

There are more than a few pastors–especially in the South–who will, on occasion, try to make their congregation feel guilty for not showing enthusiasm for God in the same way they show it for their favorite football team.

If the congregation isn’t singing loud enough or waving their arms, or whatever, the preacher will jump up and say, “I see y’all on Saturday, hootin’ and hollerin’ for your favorite team! You should get just as excited for Jeee-zus!” And the people in the congregation look around sheepishly and feel ashamed that they’ve ever cheered for football (except for Upward football, which is the only Jesus-approved kind of football).

I’ve always thought that was a cheap shot, and Barnabas Piper kind of feels the same way:

Every time I heard it, it struck me as not quite right. I felt both a sort of squeamishness and a fair amount of guilt for not cheering for God (but not enough guilt to ever get me to actually do so.) 

What is wrong with this idea? It almost seems right that we should offer God the same emotional response we do to musicians or athletes when they excite us, right? Why did it bother me so? Was it my heart that was off-base? 

Only when I began to consider the expression of deep emotion did the pieces start to fall into place. Does a groom pump his fist and jump around when his bride first appears at the back of the church? Does a first time father let out a primal yell when he is handed his minutes-old baby? When my wife comes around the corner and I’m struck again by how beautiful she is do I applaud and whoop my appreciation? No, the deepest emotions, the strongest joys are not released in the loudest ways. They render us speechless, tearful, grinning uncontrollably, weak-kneed, overwhelmed – and often all of these at once. It is only the shallower feelings that are easily expressed with exuberance and volume. 

It is unfair to demand that people treat God the way we do our favorite team. Unfair to God, that is. He is too great for applause and cheering to adequately express the love and joy he births in us. He is bigger than our fandom and exuberance. If my love for my children can mute me, how much more an infinite God?

I couldn’t agree more. Yelling and cheering are expressions of a specific kind of exuberance. Usually it’s the exuberance that is born of surprise. You hope your team will score a touchdown, but you don’t know if they will until they do. And then comes the yelling and high-fiving with strangers and the throwing of the eight-dollar hot dog into the air.

The love of my wife for me gives me great joy, but it’s not a surprise (a mystery which has no explanation, yes; a surprise, no). When I think on that, it makes me feel as good as anything can, but it doesn’t make me want to scream or high-five strangers or throw overpriced concessions.

I feel the same way about the love of God. It’s a constant, not a surprise. A big, meaningful constant that has altered the course of my life. Putting that in the same category as giant foam fingers and The Wave kind of belittles it.

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