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Yesterday in sacrament meeting we sang a hymn that I’ve always loved but for whatever reason today it really hit me in a different way. We sang “Israel, Israel, God is Calling”. If you’re not familiar with it you can watch this YouTube clip of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing it, and I’ve included the lyrics below.
Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
Israel, Israel, God is speaking.
Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!
Now a glorious morn is breaking
For the people of his choice.
Come to Zion, come to Zion,
And within her walls rejoice.
Israel, angels are descending
From celestial worlds on high,
And to man their pow’r extending,
That the Saints may homeward fly.
Come to Zion, come to Zion,
For your coming Lord is nigh.
Israel! Israel! Canst thou linger
Still in error’s gloomy ways?
Mark how judgment’s pointing finger
Justifies no vain delays.
Come to Zion, come to Zion!
Zion’s walls shall ring with praise.
For whatever reason when I’ve heard this in the past I’ve heard the words as a rebuke. Sort of an “oh you terrible sinners, get out of Babylon and come to Zion.” Today however there were different words that struck me and the song took on an entirely different meaning. Listen to the words of the song- “God is calling thee from lands of woe“. God doesn’t want us to live in “lands of woe” he wants us to have peace. “Israel! Israel! Canst thou linger, still in error’s gloomy ways?” How silly does it sound to reject peace and joy in favor of “lands of woe” and “error’s gloomy ways”. We know that “wickedness never was happiness”, and it’s true. When we neglect the paths of righteousness our lives are no longer filled with joy – they become woeful and gloomy. When God is calling he’s not calling us home to punish us for having done wrong things. He’s calling us home to get us out of bad situations. He wants what’s best for us and He is calling us for our happiness. I think sometimes we have this punishment mentality that God wants us to suffer for our sins. But that’s not true, God wants us to overcome our weaknesses and have joy!
But listen to what we’re promised if we “come to Zion” – “Zion’s walls shall ring with praise.” It doesn’t say – “and once you get here, whoo boy are you going to get it!” God loves you, He loves you right now no matter where you’re at, no matter what you’re doing. He loves YOU. He wants you to come home, to be where you can have Zion’s walls ring with praise! Christ doesn’t want you to suffer for your sins, that’s the whole point of the Atonement, He paid for your sins and He wants you to come, be made clean, and partake in the joy of righteous living. “Hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!… Come to Zion and within her walls rejoice!” Everything about this song speaks of leaving behind sadness for joy. This is what the gospel is about, this is the gospel of JOY not the gospel of being punished. The commandments are a blessing, and when we live them we are blessed not just for living them but in the living of them!
I love the picture at the top of this post. I believe the artist intended it to be a picture of Christ reaching out to Peter as he has gone under the water from his lack of faith. I think though that all of us are like Peter – under the waters of this world. Christ is reaching out to us to pull us back above the surface. Won’t you take His hand rather than sitting and drowning? Won’t you come to Zion and rejoice?