My dad has brought many souls to Christ. One particular seeker accepted much of the Christian faith and witness, but got stuck at the doctrine of our sin nature. This individual just felt strongly that we are basically good, and the term "sinner" is extreme. My dad replied that, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot say that every deed we've ever done, and every thought we've ever had, has been good, just and right. The individual conceded this point, and has continued to grow in faith in Christ over many years.
As we enter the season of Lent, sin and temptation take a front and center position in our liturgical focus. I find the variety of reactions to this interesting, especially as pertains to music. Parishioners asked a director colleague of mine, "Why does it seem like everything is in a minor key??" Ruffled, he replied, "Well, I mean, it's Lent." I know of a few families who returned to their Roman Catholic roots either temporarily or permanently, explicitly because they felt the Protestant denominations did not address Lent fully and properly. In general, however, I find that most of us get uncomfortable when we focus on our sin and temptations, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. Generally speaking, there is no mass mutiny on church music during Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, where we joyfully celebrate the hope and fulfillment of God's promises.
I find a couple different approaches to be helpful in sorting this out: one is moderation; another is understanding who God is, and who He is to us. Philippians 4:5-7 (KJV) says,
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
In terms of our understanding of Lent, I believe we should moderate between our more extreme tendencies, either to be overly self-deprecating, allowing shame to dictate our sense of ourselves; or to be prideful and glib about our sin, ignoring the heavier aspects of our faith, in favor of the parts that feel better. Often, the extreme we tend toward is driven by personality, and/or upbringing, which includes our respective understandings of theology. Some of us, by nature and nurture, identify more with justice and fairness; others, with compassion and grace. We probably attend the church that speaks to our comfort zone with that regard. By exercising moderation, and praying for wisdom, we may avoid falling into characterizing ourselves or God in a way that is dishonoring to Him.
This leads into the second approach that I find helpful in sorting out our attitudes toward Lent: understanding who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him. God is perfect and holy, and He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior. We are His beloved creation, but we have estranged ourselves from Him through our sin (Romans 3:23). Truth and mercy characterize God's identity and ours. He is the perfect, sinless one, who is our eternal judge; but He lavished His mercy and love on us, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We are separate from God because of our sin, but we are sought by Him, infinitely loved by Him, cherished by Him, saved by Him. It is not His will that any one of us should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
Thus, to believe on the one hand that God is an angry punisher, or on the other, that His merciful sacrifice was not a big deal, is to greatly dishonor Him. Likewise, to believe that we are worthless, shameful beings on the one hand, or basically good people with no need of salvation, not only dishonors God, but it dishonors Christ's sacrifice, and dishonors ourselves as His beloved children. God alone holds the tension between justice and mercy perfectly. To understand this more is to understand Him more.
Circling back to music during Lent: not every song or hymn will be in a minor key, that I can promise you. Music will overall be a bit more introspective, and as always, it will support the spoken word. It is my prayer that during this solemn season, your corporate worship and personal devotion will be filled with awareness of the gravity of Christ's sacrifice for us, the depth of God's love for us, and a renewed desire to live more fully to Him.