Better than a hallelujah?

It’s about time we had a look at another shockingly oblivious Christian tune. My mouth was literally hanging open when I heard this on the radio. I could not believe the lyrics. Well, I don’t believe the lyrics — and I was struggling to accept the obvious fact that some people can broadcast, listen to, and even personally perform this song without seeing how absurd and repulsive it is.

Without further ado, here is Amy Grant’s “Better Than A Hallelujah.”


Lest anyone argue that Amy Grant is just some sort of fringe weirdo who doesn’t represent Christianity in any substantive way, let me quote from the beginning of her Wikipedia entry:

Amy Lee Grant (born November 25, 1960) is an American multiple #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit singer-songwriter, musician, author, media personality and actress, best known for her Christian music. She has been referred to as “The Queen of Christian Pop”. As of 2009, Grant remains the best-selling contemporary Christian music singer ever, having sold over 30 million units worldwide. … Grant has won six Grammy Awards, 25 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, and had the first Christian album ever to go Platinum.

Of course these lyrics don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of every Christian on the planet, no matter how many Grammys she’s won. (They certainly don’t reflect the stance of YouTube commenters who condemn Grant as an “unbeliever” because she’s been divorced and remarried.) But I think it’s safe to say that, with almost 600,000 YouTube views on just the two versions of this song that EMI has posted, a fair number of Christians do like it.

In case you can’t listen to the song yourself: the message is basically, “Sometimes, instead of praising and thanking him for his goodness, God would prefer that you suffer painfully for extended periods of time. The more miserable you are, the happier it makes him.”

Really. That’s a paraphrase, but just barely. Here’s the second verse and the chorus.

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what’s been done,
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

I see how some people who are seriously suffering might feel comforted by this message, might want to believe that their pain has some greater purpose. There is a real correlation between religiosity and standard of living, and that is understandable on some level — if you can’t do much of anything about the hardships in your life, you might as well come up with some way to cope, psychologically.

But even this means turning one’s understanding of the world inside out. In no other context would a “loving” character take pleasure in the suffering of his loved ones. In no other context would a “benevolent” character create life just to watch it cry, hurt, and die and consider that somehow a testament to his own glory. If you do have the luxury of being comfortable and having the time to think about your beliefs and discuss them with others, how can you possibly get past this? It seems to me that as a thinking Christian, you could believe in a loving, benevolent and not omnipotent god — or you could believe in an omnipotent god who allows and even desires humanity’s suffering. But you can’t have both.

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  1. YIKES!!

    (sorry, don’t really have anything else to add.)

  2. Questioning

     /  March 21, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    The way I used to look at the song was not that she was saying that God is pleased that people are suffering. I took it as saying that people being honest about their suffering and being real is better than putting on your happy Christian face and forcing yourself to sing “hallelujah” when everything is really not okay, and you don’t really mean it. I can get on board with that, if that is really the message of the song. But I also totally see your point, and agree that it sounds pretty awful when you look at it that way.

  3. I also read it as a meditation on the idea that honesty and intimacy are valued by God more than empty praise or self-delusion. And isn’t that a pretty understandable sentiment? I know I would rather have someone I cared about be honest and upfront with me, even when they were going through a hard time or even were angry with me, rather than hiding their true feelings, lying, or flattering me to smooth everything over.

  4. Questioning and KL: That’s a layer of it I didn’t appreciate before; thanks for your comments. Surely it’s not just that God enjoys hearing about your suffering, it’s also that your cries of pain are “honest cries.” How you would conceal your thoughts and feelings from an omniscient being, I’m not sure, but perhaps that’s part of the point. (I also think I could find some verses in the Bible where God demands praise no matter what hardships you’re going through. But I’ll set that aside for now; we’ll deal with the deity people actually believe in, not the one/s their holy book writes about.)

    I wouldn’t be comfortable stopping there, is the thing. And I think the conclusion in my post is still the next step. All right, God wants us to feel our feelings honestly — but why are we feeling those things? Why did God push that “dying man” until he was ready to “[give] up the fight”? Why is the mother in the first verse shedding those “tears in the dead of night”? I thought that most Christians believe that nothing happens outside of God’s will … that God has the power to control the entire universe. So. Maybe God appreciates your honesty in reacting to the situations you’re in … but especially with this extra layer in mind, doesn’t it make him seem like rather a sadist? Don’t you still have to say, “God wants me to be honest with him about the ways he is deliberately causing me to suffer?”

  5. Oh, wow.

    A phrasing that popped into my head as I was trying to describe the creepy sadism I was talking about in my last comment was, “Tell Daddy where it hurts.” That’s something that could be completely innocently said, of course. With some trepidation, I turned to Google to see if I was being paranoid in getting a creepy vibe from those words. Guess what the first hit was? Lyrics from Amy Grant’s song, “Lay Down (The Burden of Your Heart).”

    Lay down the burden on your heart.
    I know you’ll never miss it.
    Show your Daddy where it hurts,
    And let your Daddy lift it.

    It’s a fine, fine line
    Betwixt love and hate.
    Why, it’s tough to tell the two apart.
    But you know it’s love
    That He offers you.
    Lay down the burden of your heart.

    I think I can let this sit there without further comment.

  6. The video sure doesn’t help. Cutting between the tragic old man and her smiley blankness is depressing on a whole ‘nother level.

  7. Wow… I didn’t watch the video, but I tried to read the lyric. I couldn’t make it past the first few lines. The people who are into this stuff… I have to feel that they just don’t think about it. It’s the only explanation. I was raised Southern Baptist and went to church almost every Sunday. I’m not really sure what made me see it all from another angle, but what was once “normal” is now disgusting and frightening to me.

  8. Thanks for sharing the video with unbelievers who may not have ever seen it- see..God DOES work in mysterious ways!!
    Which is why your comment (about Amy Grant’s lyrics) of “this means turning one’s understanding of the world inside out” is SO appropriate!
    In this season of Easter, that truth becomes more evident- who else BUT God would die for this mess of a world even BEFORE we knew we needed Him to do so for us! That type of love DOES turn the world order inside out!
    That’s MY hallelujah_ God’s infinite mercy and grace to hear my miseries and reach out to save me!!

  9. Um, yes … I’m glad we agree. It is certainly an “inside out” kind of “love” that would lead your god to slowly and gruesomely murder his own son and consider that for some reason both necessary and sufficient to atone for the faults of the rest of humanity, which are only considered to have those faults because of the way your god made them and the rules your god set up.

    If you want to see that as “mercy and grace,” that’s your prerogative.

  10. fred akers

     /  June 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Well, I am glad I found this blog. So many of the feelings I had were aptly described in words. Thank you. Actually I think this song has a deeper meaning IMHO. Hallelujah means ‘Praise God’. What could be better than praising God? Nothing. I like Casting Crowns song to graciously describe what we should be doing in our sufferings (Praise you in this storm).

    So a God who enjoys our suffering. Which divine being would enjoy our suffering? Satan. Amy Grant has a particular connection to George Bush, who is one of the leaders of Bohemian Grove. Farfetched? The elite are always trying to co-opt famous Christians to lead astray God’s lambs. I for one was dismayed at Amy Grant’s divorce of her husband, in the face of his attempts to honestly reconcile. It seems she is carving out a niche for herself to come ever so close to the truth of God to lasso those who are hurting into bad theology. She can say whatever she wants, but my sheep hear my voice.

  11. I disagree with the “God loves a lullaby” and “God just hears a melody”. BUT, to me, this song means God wants us to give all our troubles to him. We don’t have to be dressed up in a church and think we only have to praise Him. He wants us to know we can turn to him in our times of troubles. To clear up one thing NFQ, I wanted to comment on your statement, “which are only considered to have those faults because of the way your god made them and the rules your god set up.” God had/has no intention in making faults in us. We have a choice to follow God and received his blessing and love (living in a sinful world we will hurt at times but with God on our side, we can withhold it, trully) OR follow and do what we want (Satan’s goal for us) and hurt a hell of a lot worse. She’s a great singer and I’m sure means well. We’re not at all perfect. It’s a struggle every single day.

  12. Hi Mylo11. You wrote, “God had/has no intention in making faults in us.” Does that mean that God messed up in the process of creating and accidentally made us with faults? Or does it mean he just wasn’t that intent on the goal of making a thoroughly good creation? Even if God wants us to have a choice to follow him, he could have made us with preference sets that would have led to us all making that choice. So it seems to me that either he doesn’t actually want everyone to follow him, he’s not actually omnipotent … or, much more parsimoniously, he doesn’t exist in the first place.

  13. I think it is truly amazing how you people have taken a beautifully written and produced song and tried to find fault with it. The song is trying to say that there is hurt in the world but God is there to help. My take on the lines ““God loves a lullaby” and “God just hears a melody” means that our troubles that we have that we are hurting from so much is understood by God who knows the future and realizes that everything will turn out ok just as a melody. Big things to us are small to Heavenly Father. As far as Amy getting a divorce goes, that is her business. Why would anyone else JUDGE her on something like that? Bad things happen to good people and for those that have never gone thru a divorce (myself included) you should feel blessed to have not had to go thru it. Having had to though, I think it is ridiculous to assume that she is any less of a Christian because of that. How stupid! As for Fred Akers comments they are just to stupid to entertain with any more comment. Enjoy the song and get off your Southern Baptist high horse, you are no better than your neighbor and you don’t have the right to JUDGE anyway.

  14. You all should have listen to this before you decided to post negatively on here.

  15. Gretchen Massenburg

     /  November 26, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of this song. The song is not saying that God enjoys our suffering, it is saying that inevitably we all will suffer at some point in our lives and that when we come to Him with our burdens He rejoices that we choose to bring it to Him. Laying them at the feet of Jesus. God never told us we would not have suffering in this world. but He promised we would not have to go through anything alone. I think you need to study God’s word deeper to really appreciate the message in this song.

  16. This is a terrible song. Halleluah means “Praise the Lord” in any language. And as the created people of His pasture, it is just unholy ground to make such an ignorant assertion.

  17. It’s a great song. And has perhaps more depth than even Ms. Grant realizes (judging from her discussion above).

    Via Dolorosa.

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