Lyrics matter.

One of the greatest reasons they matter, especially in a corporate worship setting, is because they teach. Christians learn about God not only through sermons but also through praise. We sing songs of God’s sovereignty and songs of His love and through it all, we come to know him more fully.

We are also called to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). To worship in truth means that we must take great care for the words we are actually singing. We must do our best to sing only truth to and about God.

Yet there is a movement in contemporary Christian music toward lyrics that are not biblically or doctrinally sound. Lyrics are no longer conveying truth but are becoming more oriented around our feelings and our response.

We previously noted-  that an increasingly prevalent theme in worship songs is the reckless love of God. We looked into scripture to see if God’s love really was reckless and found that it was not.

Another song that mirrors this trend is Resurrecting by Elevation Worship. Here is how the verse of concern goes:

“The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave”

When I first listened to the lyric, I questioned – Did God really rob the grave?

What is the grave?

The “grave” in these lyrics first refers to the grave in which Jesus was laid after his death on the cross. Jesus is crucified on the cross, takes on the full wrath and punishment of God we deserved, and lets out his final breath. We see in the four canonical gospels (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:30-42) that Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. He then takes Jesus’ body to a tomb, wraps him in linen, lays him down and covers the tomb with a stone. In the most literal and historical perspective, this is the grave of Christ.

However, the truth lies deeper than the physical location where Christ was buried. The grave, in a deeper, truer sense, refers to death itself. The significance of the absence of Jesus in the tomb is that he resurrected and defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:26). To defeat the grave would, therefore, be a reference to defeating death itself. To no longer be in the grave means that Jesus defeated death and was raised to life.

Did God rob the grave?

Now having clarified what the grave refers to, it is necessary to go deeper into what the artist might mean by saying “our God has robbed the grave.” The phrase “robbing the grave” has many negative meanings but given the context of the biblical narrative, the one that best relates is the notion of Jesus “cheating death” by not actually dying when he should have for he had risen.

However, even to say that God cheated death would not be in line with scripture. One of the commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai was that we shall not steal (Exodus 20:5). We see all over scripture that God commands his people to not steal (Leviticus 19:11, Deuteronomy 5:19) and even see Christ repeating this commandment (Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20) in the Gospels. So God has declared over and over again that we are not to steal. Not only do we find that God hates stealing but also that he is a God of justice. We see in Deuteronomy 32:4 that God declares that all of his ways are just because He himself is just and upright. Throughout scripture, we can see that God does not steal. To say that God “robbed” anything would go against what He says we should not do.

The question, then, goes deeper than whether God did or did not rob the grave to whether he ever could. This is not, then, just a question of the actions of God but of the nature of God. The question becomes: Is it possible for God to rob (steal) or cheat even in relation to death?

What we find in scripture is that not only that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Psalms 33:4, Proverbs 30:50.) but also that He cannot lie. We see in 2 Samuel 22:31 that God’s way is perfect and His words prove true. God, in his perfection, is not able to sin for if He were able to sin then he would no longer be perfect. Thus, if God cannot sin and he does not lie then there is only truth in His declarations. Therefore when God says He is just then He is just. It’s is not only that God does not steal but that He cannot for his very nature is that of justice.

In seeing the nature of God, that He is just and that He does not lie, we, therefore, cannot say that God ever steals or robs. To say that God can do these things infringes on His very nature and His own declaration of that nature. We cannot say that God “robbed” the grave or “cheated” death for we must not attribute to God that which is in not true of Him.

An Unhelpful Speech

Why then does this matter? Is this not a matter of language used to figuratively describe what God accomplished through the resurrection?

We must, understanding the teaching nature of worship songs, take into careful consideration the words we sing. The use of lyrics that are not doctrinally sound leads us to speak words that illustrate God’s actions and his nature in a way that is ultimately unbiblical.

To say that God “robbed the grave”, although seemingly harmless, teaches people something that is not true about God. There is no situation in which saying that “God robbed the grave” is edifying to Christians. We should not look for justification to defend the song when scripture says otherwise. We must think rightly of God and our speech and our song must reflect that right thinking.

And as we have found, this is not even possible for God in his justice. Even if we are figuratively describing God’s actions, we must do it in a way that is true of God. We should never falsely describe God or His nature, especially in a setting of corporate worship through which people learn about God.

The resurrection is a beautiful truth that not only secured our justification (Romans 4:25) but defeated death (Acts 2:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2: 14-15). We must use our words, therefore, to display this truth and build up the Church. We must think rightly about our God as He revealed Himself to us through His word.