I love Hillsong United’s new album, Empires, which contains fantastic worship music along with moving lyrics. Perhaps one of my favorite songs is called “Even When it Hurts.”
However, there’s a little controversy going around about the phrase “hurts like hell” found in the lyrics of the song. It’s ridiculous, and here’s why.
The argument goes both ways. The problem here is that both sides don’t want to accept the other, and therefore honor one another. According to the arguments, you’re either being “too legalistic” or “too liberal.”
I’ve heard a lot of people say they feel mixed on the matter. I’m in the same boat. On one hand, I’ve been through a lot. While my life may not have been as horrific as hell, it was still a glimpse of it, still a lot of pain and suffering. I can relate to these lyrics really well and cry out from the bottom of my heart “Even when it hurts, I’ll praise you!”
That’s powerful. A midst my angst, I can choose to praise God. It’s hard at times, yet so rewarding.
But does my pain and suffering really “hurt like hell”? If it does, do I have to use the clique phrase? Why can’t I say “even when I go through hell, I’ll praise you”? That seems to convey the same message from the heart but without using a beaten-down, common phrase.
Furthermore, there’s a difference between public and private worship. If I’m privately worshiping God and sharing my struggles with him and I think it’s okay to say “hurts like hell,” then that’s on me and my conscience. If my conscience is clear on the matter and I don’t see any major issue with it, I’ll sing it.
If I’m a more conservative Christian, I might not feel comfortable saying the phrase, “hurts like hell.” And frankly, I agree with this point, too. I don’t mind saying hell when talking about hell. It’s a real place that’s mentioned numerous times in the Bible. I’ll never forget the first time I tried witnessing to some kids when I was younger and saying hell in the context that without Jesus, we’d go to hell. I didn’t think much of it, as I was just saying what I read in the Bible. The other kids, though, all burst into tears and I was left alone on a trampoline confused. The important thing, though, is that I didn’t say, “what the hell,” or “to hell with you,” or “it hurts like hell.” These are phrases mostly used in a swearing, mindless context.
Now, obviously, I can see why people would lean on one side or the other. I find myself doing the same thing. Part of me thinks the meaning behind the phrase is honest and correctly expresses what people go through, while the other side of me says the phrase is not necessary and the writers could have just picked other words.
So what’s the answer? Is there really a simple solution to this simple controversy?
Yup. It’s in the Bible.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about living in harmony with one another and not being divided. In chapter 8, he specifically brings up the controversial topic of eating food that was offered to idols. He points out very good reasons as to why it’s okay to eat the food. Likewise, I’ve seen many people on the internet bring up good reasons as to why the lyrics in the song are okay.
But Paul doesn’t end there. He doesn’t use his superior knowledge of God to tell people, “it’s okay, therefore I’m going to do it whether you like it or not.” He doesn’t say, “if you don’t like the food, don’t eat it.”
No, instead, he turns everything upside down, much like Jesus did Himself. He says:
But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NLT)
Here’s a similar version. I switched the words about food with words about the lyrics to match the context. It’s the same principle:
But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—saying “hurts like hell” in a worship song, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by singing the phrase, too? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I say causes another believer to sin, I will never say the phrase again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.
Is Paul telling you to never say the phrase again when it’s just you and God? Of course not! He’s not saying to lower or raise your standard just because others have it at a different height. He’s talking about honor here, and that’s something I think the band missed, sadly.
This group of musicians is a worship band, which means that most of their songs are played corporately in front of a vast crowd across the world. I saw a YouTube video of them singing this song at a church, and they used the phrase. Obviously, if I were there singing along in the crowd, I might feel uncomfortable with the lyrics but simply ignore it and push onward in worship. But that’s not what Paul says to do. He doesn’t address the weak and say, “grow a spine!” No, instead he looks at those who have more freedom and urges them to respect and honor those that are weak.
That’s love right there, guys.
So there you have it. I personally think the phrase wasn’t Hillsong’s most creative or effective idea. They chose to put it in the song to be real and emphasize praising God, but it sort of backfired on them. If they wanted to be real, why didn’t they say, “even when s*** hits the fan, I’ll praise you”? I’m sure plenty of people could relate to that, too. (I’m simply exaggerating here.) However, more than it being right or wrong, the band could have simply chosen to honors those with a “weaker conscience.”
I’ve seen that this song has stirred and upset many Christians. Many believe it’s right, but many believe it’s wrong. Maybe they are weak, but that doesn’t matter. What matters more is not making them stumble.
But enough about my thoughts, what do YOU think? Is it good or bad? Either way, do you think it should be sung corporately? Do you think 1 Corinthians 8 applies to this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts!