This one was written by our friend Sean Dwyer.

I’ve recently stopped attending my church. Putting many intellectual issues aside, the heart of the matter is the heart. I do not want to go anymore. I am unable to go. I am unable to bear the weight of the expectations, exhortations, and encouragements. I am sick.

In the words of Hozier, my church has been dishing out a “deathless death.” In his song, “Take Me to Church,” he sings:

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak,
A fresh poison each week.
“We were born sick,” you heard them say it.
My church offers no absolution.
She tells me, “Worship in the bedroom.”

Like everyone, I find myself under the immense weight of countless demands in life, from within myself and from without. And I am not meeting the standards I inherently set for myself nor the standards others inevitably set for me. And then I go to church and get a heavy dose of this “fresh poison”—more exhortations to holy living and kingdom activism, as if this could motivate exhausted people like myself. In this I experience the “deathless death”: while I realize that “we were born sick,” I am left wondering if the solution is for me to double down on my efforts. My conformity to these precepts even gives me some things to believe about myself, namely, that I may be overcoming my illness, and/or that I am proving to myself that I really belong. Really, there is nowhere else to turn when the Church “offers no absolution.”

The lack of absolution leaves us to “worship in the bedroom.” We are all worshipping creatures by nature. Yet, because we are now sick with sin, these commands are highlighting the problem, even empowering it, not solving it and especially not providing a way forward (cf. Rom. 5:20; 1 Cor. 15:56). So we continue worshipping those things that at least temporarily satisfy our need for love and cleansing.

As far as I see it, our real hope is in the proclamation of absolution and freedom from the law. For “where there is no law, there is no transgression,” and where there is no gospel of the forgiveness of sin, there is no healing or power or true worship of God (Rom. 4:15; cf. 7:6). But now I am dreaming.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Hozier stated:

“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment—if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes—everything you believed about yourself gone. In a death-and-rebirth sense.”

In another interview with New York magazine, he said:

“The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”

My point, though, has nothing to do with the song itself, or Hozier’s meaning for it, but everything to do with highlighting how we all desire to participate in a dying and resurrecting act of love. At church I doggedly “worship” and participate in a death, but not “in a wonderful way,” as Hozier describes. It’s more like the death of a million paper-cuts, especially when “grace” itself suffers the death of a million qualifications.

We need death but not the death of an unending stream of expectations which deludes us into believing all sorts of false things about ourselves. Instead, in the proclamation of Christ’s death for us, we taste a death to ourselves. Even better, in the proclamation of his resurrection for us, we taste the hope of life from the dead. In this proclamation of absolution is the true act of love—reclaiming love and a sort of reenactment and renewal, in which, whether for the first time or the thousandth, we come to God with our sin and neediness and, as unconditionally promised, we are always met with his provision and mercy, no strings attached.

Maybe if, after highlighting my problems, my church offered some absolution (full stop), I’d want to go. Till then, I guess my only option is to “worship like a dog” under the weight of this “deathless death,” as I render an ungrateful and guilty attempt at “obedience,” wondering quite a few things about my real standing before God.

But I do have hope in the days in which, under the hearing of God’s law and gospel, I see myself through His eyes, if just for a moment—everything I believe about myself gone, and only what he says about me in Christ remaining.