This post is written by David McLemore and is published as a companion to Unit 14, Session 3 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 5 (Fall 2022): From Rebellion to Exile.
In the secular song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, the lyrics and music are melancholic and speaks on how love can be hard, and it does hurt us. It doesn’t feel, at least at times, like a victory march and it can feel cold and broken, as the song says. The praise march down the wedding aisle too often ends in heartache, a broken hallelujah.
A Story of Faith and Love
Cohen’s song is fascinatingly vague. Is it about faith? Or is it about love? Maybe it’s both. The Bible is about faith, of course, but it’s also about love. It’s a love story of God and His people, with the former staying true, while the latter prostitutes herself out to the world. After Genesis 2, it is a story of a broken hallelujah being mended by grace.
In this broken and painful world, we don’t expect love to last. We know it’s more than a feeling, but our feelings direct so much of what we do. No wonder our love is no victory march. Maybe there is a reason most weddings are in the summer. The warmth resonates with our intense feelings at the time. Then winter comes, and the coldness shocks our system, and leaves us breathless, even hopeless. Broken.
We see a reflection of this in the Bible. The story of God’s people is basically this. God loves man. Man leaves God. Man grows sad. Man won’t come back to God. God comes to man. Man comes back to God.
For all its melancholy, Cohen’s song could be a song of hope and of faith. The broken hallelujah may be our current reality, but will it be our end? A broken hallelujah is still a hallelujah, a hallelujah waiting to be restored.
Throughout the story of redemption, God never leaves His people. Even the darkest of moments have a glimmer of hope. Even the oracles of judgment include an offer of mercy. Even the blackness of sin offers the chance of redemption. The blood of lambs can never pay for the sins of man, but it’s used anyway, because one day a man will become a lamb and His blood will be smeared on the doorpost of heaven. Even in the stronghold of slavery, the promise of freedom never fails. Even in the dungeon of sin, the dragon is assured an end.
There is a double theme running through it all: judgment and grace. No book weds the two better than the minor prophet Zephaniah. He calls a proud people to humility, promising judgment and grace. We think in terms of either/or, and rightly so. Some will be judged. Others will find grace. But the truth is, even those finding grace also find judgment. It’s only right. Not even God can simply overlook wrong. The penalty is due. Payment can be delayed but never simply forgiven. Someone must bear the cost.
Here is where the gospel gets amazing. Jesus paid the penalty. He bore the cost of forgiveness. He died in place of the guilty. He took the judgment. He bore the wrath. He died.
But then He lives. Love does become a victory march. Winter warms into endless summer. The broken hallelujah is restored because Jesus’s wounded hands put it back together. And what God has joined, no man can separate.
David McLemore serves as an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He is a regular contributor to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s For the Church website and a staff writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.