Worshipful Sadomasochism

As every good little Reformed boy and girl knows, progressive sanctification comes in two flavors, mortification (deadening) to works of sin and vivification (enlivening) to works of righteousness, both of which happen to us (i.e. are wrought within us) by our union with and participation in Christ. But can we permit ourselves to become a little livelier about the deadening aspect of the process? Is it possible, even beneficial, to be passionate about the ongoing mortification of our sin?

I was driving to work and listening to some vintage Skillet music, i.e. Invincible (2000), and it stirred my recollection of this article from Homeschoolers Anonymous, which I bumped into earlier this year. I’ve noted much of contemporary Christian worship music is anonymously indistinguishable from the soft-rock love ballads of the 1990’s (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but bear it in mind). Now, I’m noting some CCM of the metal and hard-rock varieties seems anonymously indistinguishable from a soundtrack for something somewhere between 50 Shades of Gray and Hellraiser: Inferno. It’s not a matter of the sexualization but rather the romanticization or eroticization of divinely inflicted pain on the sons of God.

My studied intuition, reflection, and observation tells me this is probably an experience and habit of the mind (and body) that’s most prominent or distinctive of males in their adolescent and young-adult years. I certainly know that’s how I’ve processed this in the past as I constructed a fictional character off John Cooper of Skillet and his music.

The imagined or envisioned results of a life lived in union with “God the Most Violent” (which is a perfectly valid translation of El Shaddai) who’ll inflict calculated pains and injuries upon us comes to be seen as the Good Life. Often, we merely endure it and hold fast in hope of the outcome. But can some people see and savor the promised beautiful end enough to confront mortification head-on with passionately courageous eagerness? Can a few fired-up souls believe the promise of what their afflictions are accomplishing and discover anticipation of the result in the very moment they anticipate and enter into the agony? And as they find those things together, can they revel in the pain and chaos that’s being heaped upon them in God’s mysterious crushing providence?

Let me stick with some classic Skillet to illustrate. Consider listening to the songs at the links provided. The music adds a lot to the “violence” of the lyrics.

Here’s “You’re Powerful” from the Invincible album:

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

You wreck me; you rule me. You turn me upside down.
Your glory pervades me. You conquer without a sound.

You wreck me; you rule me. You turn me upside down.
Your glory pervades me. You conquer without a sound.

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

You shake me; you break me. You make me whole again.
Your nature, unchanging. All fails, but you remain.

You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!

And when the ground begins to shake,
And when my courage starts to fade,
I let my fears go.

When you breathe, the lifeless rise up.
Invade me with violence and heal me.
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re powerful! You’re unshakeable!
You’re mighty. You’re the ultimate powerful.

There’s definitely a desirous submission to ferocious domination in there. You can hear the fervent confession of God’s adamantine yet vibrant immutability along with the will and power to destroy and rebuild anything he wishes in his wisdom and glory.

This is from “Kill Me, Heal Me” on the Alien Youth (2001) album:

Break my bones and reset me. Piece by piece, you break me.
Pick up the cross ‘cause it’s killing time.
How can I scream when the pain is such a release?
I get the courage to pick up the nails ‘cause it’s killing time.

Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!
Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!

Breathing your love, you’re ferocious. You’re in my lungs.
Resuscitate. Craving your electricity.
Feet to my pain! You give wings to my fear!
Your peace inhabits my blood! Your love is thick!

Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!
Kill me, heal me! Kill me, heal me! On and on!

Um, for lack of a better option, maybe we can vote this the interim anthem of ardor for our own mortification. It doesn’t get more emphatically violent against one’s own self than that. It’s a thrilling yearning for a painful death to bring about greater life.

And this is from “Earth Invasion” also on the Alien Youth album, proclaiming the power of the heavenly invasion of the kingdom of God upon the earth:

Without sound, without fear
It attacks the heart and soul
To rule all life and display his government.

Sounds pretty cunningly, ruthlessly, and militaristically tyrannical … and I want it.

Is sadomasochism (an anticipatory thrill at pain that bring power and purification) a fit euphemism for this sort of passion or zeal for one’s own progressive mortification? I’m trying to find the right words that capture this way of thinking and desiring.

I was also reminded when recently watching Jeremiah (1998) there’s a passage from that prophet which has made some scholars question if this sort of thing is there. These words were uttered after Jeremiah was persecuted by Passhur (a priest and officer in the temple):

O Yahweh, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of Yahweh has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.”

But Yahweh is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

O Yahweh of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to Yahweh; praise Yahweh! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

– Jeremiah 20:7-13

The intrigue in this passage is the matter of Yahweh “deceiving” Jeremiah. The Hebrew verb pathah literally means: to be or make spacious, open, or wide. In its figurative use, it means to entice, deceive, persuade, or seduce someone or to expose them as gullible or simple-minded. So, hear it in those ways and grasp the center of semantic range:

O Yahweh, you have deceived me, and I was deceived.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have persuaded me, and I was persuaded.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have seduced me, and I was seduced.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

O Yahweh, you have revealed me to be naive, and I was exposed as naive.
You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.

Jeremiah starts with what Yahweh has done to him and what it shows about Yahweh. He mentions all the chaos surrounding him and his ministry. And he concludes with praise to Yahweh for it all.

Are all those nut-job liberal commentators who think there’s some sort of S&M or B&D role-play going on between Yahweh and his prophet Jeremiah perhaps ever-so-slightly onto something? Maybe God’s not all rainbows and Precious Moments in real life and in some of our individual lives. Maybe in addition to being altogether good, our God’s also unpredictably wild and dangerous.

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