11 August 2008
Metallica, Led Zepplin and Jesus
"All truth is God's truth" That sentence has been implanted in my memory for the past eight years. I went to university at John Brown in Siloam Springs, Arkansas and part of the curriculum my first year was a class called Introduction to Higher Education' The class didn't really discuss anything relating to higher education, it was more of a short summary of JBU, its history, founders, and the courses offered. However, a small part of the class was how a Christian based education could parallel with secular learning. All the classes had to read this one book. The name escapes me at the moment, but the opening sentence was 'All truth is God's truth'. I don't know about everyone else's class, but mine had a field day with that sentence. The newly minted 18 years olds took that sentence to the farthest extreme possible. Perhaps that is why it has stuck in my head all these years. Or perhaps it has stayed around because it is true....ALL truth IS God's truth. And it is that very sentence that has caused my heart to explore what it means to be a light unto a dark world.
I really enjoy rock music, and I go from one extreme to another. I love those 'classic rock' bands like Guns and Roses and Led Zeppelin. I particularly like the cheesy 80's/90's big hair bands like Poison and the heavier music of the era in bands like Black Sabbath. Metallica is one of my favourite bands of all times, right along side AC/DC. For a more modern feel, Rage Against the Machine and Offspring make the list. Yet none of the afore mentioned bands class as the traditional kind of music that a good Christian should listen to. As I love Jesus and try to follow what the Bible says, how do I reconcile my love of rock music with my love of Jesus? With the simple phrase 'All truth is God's truth'
In Matthew 28, the Great Commission is delivered "Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations..." The thing about that command is that Jesus doesn't say how. He didn't say "go to all the churches and get the really holy people to come and follow me" He said to go unto all the nations, everyone, everywhere. Jesus was never one to make a statement he wasn't willing to abide by; He went unto all the nations, calling the people and making disciples wherever he went. He ate dinner with the tax collectors, he helped a Samaritan woman at the well, he worked, he toiled, he walked and he met people where they were; poor, dying, hungry, rich, king, servant intelligent or dumb. He spoke to people on their level in ways they could understand. Jesus used parables to get the massage across to people that had long ago closed their hearts and minds to Jesus. So why should we be any different today? Why should we limit ourselves to purely Christian' words, music and books to reach a world that is so far away from that ideology and wording that the message often just falls upon deaf ears?
I say all of this, in conjunction with rock music, because there is so much truth in music. Especially rock. For years the louder and heavier the music, the more rebellious and off culture it was. It was a badge of courage so to speak to break the mould and shock people. As a result, Christians tended to make the snap judgment that the music must be evil and therefore not appropriate. Often times these judgments were made without grasping the full potential these songs and their lyrics had. In no way can I claim to know what James Hetfield, Robert Plant or Roger Waters had in mind when they wrote, but I can look at their lyrics and see truth. And as all truth is God's truth, if a song can speak to someone then far be it from me to turn my back on that method of ministry.
"There's a feeling I get when I look to the west, and my spirit is crying for leaving. In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees, and the voices of those who stand looking....and it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason." Those famous lines of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin can easily be interpreted a number of ways. I choose to take the Biblical truth from the song. For example, the Bible talks about longing for Heaven as we were made not for this earth, but for eternal life with Christ Jesus. (see 2 Corn 5:1-8, Matt 6:19) I look at the lines "there's a feeling I get when I look to the west and my spirit is longing for leaving" to be a longing of the soul for something more, a longing to be close to the creator God. And what about "and its whispered that soon if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason" The Bible is clear that the only way to the Father is through Him, all we need to do is call. Romans 10:13 is a perfect example "for whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." Still another example is the commonly quoted verse "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me" (John 14:6) But lets consider the verse that precedes it, "We don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5) In essence, we are confused, we need clarity and reason. Jesus responds to our questions by saying that He is the way and He will show us. Again, "the piper will lead us to reason"; Jesus will guide us every step of the way to the truth, to reason, to Him, we need only ask.
But my favourite lines of the classic Led Zeppelin song are: "Your head is humming and it won't go in case you don't know, the pipers calling you to join him. Dear lady can you hear the wind blow and did you know, your stairway lies on the whispering wind" Not only are those lines extremely poetic, but so full of Biblical truth it's unbelievable. We often get confused and feel lost. It can feel like our heads are spinning with so much information: school, work, books, music, religion, TV etc... But the 'still small voice of the Lord' is crying out to us, (the piper if you will) longing to be heard. This society in which we live can be very confusing. So much comes to us loudly, colourfully and with robust zeal that we expect God to show himself in that same way. And he does...sometimes. But sometimes, as 1 Kings 19:9-13 shows us, He comes in the gentle whisper. In the interest of space, I will paraphrase the verse; Elijah and God are having a chat. Elijah is lamenting the fact that he has been faithful for his whole life and now it seems that everyone is trying to kill Him. He wants to see the Glory of God. So God says to him "Go and stand on the mountain for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave" For the Lord was in the gentle whisper. Elijah knew the whisper was the Lord, "dear lady can you hear the wind blow, and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind" Sometimes the answers, and the truth, come in the smallest of voices.
I know it seems a bit far fetched, and in no way am I claiming that Stairway to Heaven is a Christian song. I do think that the intentions of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and crew were to write a world famous worship song. But what I am saying is that there is truth in the lyrics, there is Biblical imagery and enough of it to start a conversation with a Led Zeppelin fan. Isn't that what we are supposed to do? Be lights in the darkness? What better way than to meet someone right where they are; a die hard music fan comes across your path and you come to them with a new and Biblically grounded view of an amazing Led Zeppelin song. And the best part is it's not just an isolated incident in one song. There are countless others.
Take another personal favourite, Metallica. I will start with the obvious 'Enter Sandman' A classic example of what to do "say your prayers little one don't forget, my son, to include everyone..." Ok, ok, jokes aside. One of the greatest songs from Metallica is also overflowing with Biblical reference and imagery, Holier than Thou. "The craps rolls out your mouth again haven't changed; your brain is still gelatin. Little whispers circle around your head, why don't you worry about yourself instead" Fantastic. How many references in the Bible are there about treating each other with respect and not judging? "Love your neighbour as yourself" (see Mt 22:39, mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-37, Mk 5:43-48) and "You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5. The last line of the verse "why don't you worry about yourself instead", well done Metallica, that is a Biblical command. But it gets more obvious than that. The third verse states it even more clearly "Before you judge me take a look at you, cant you find something better to do, point the finger, slow to understand, arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand" Wow! Pardon the over used clich, but if that is not a slap in the face to stagnant, judgmental Christians then I don't know what is! The verse from Proverbs 16:18 "pride cometh before a fall" comes to mind. (see also Prov 8:13 and 13:10) not to mention to countless reference made in the Bible to a haughty attitude, pridefullness, arrogance, foolishness and ignorance!
But it is the verse sandwiched between those two that I find the most intriguing "who are you? where ya been? where ya from? gossip is burning on the tip of your tongue, you lie so much you believe yourself, judge not lest ye be judged." Not only there an actual Bible verse quoted in the last line (Luke 6:37, Judge not lest ye be judged) But the previous lines speak of the very things that Jesus warned his follows of, i.e. Gossip and Lies. "Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips" 1 Tim 5:12-13. Exodus 20 and Romans 1 also talk about too many questions, spreading slander and gossip. The need to even mention verses about lying seems superfluous, as no one would question the fault in that. This song offers an excellent, sound view on the Godly way to live; who would have thought, all from a Metallica song?!
The song goes on to say "as you look through my window, deep into my room at your future and freedom, the grey and plastics retards all floating in circles, and as you taste the fruits of new sensations, softly brushing your lips, as we rise when we challenge and kill" When we ignore the teaching and truth that the Bible has to offer, we end up trapped, staring from the inside out, looking at a life of freedom and fullness that we are somehow short of. The Bible is truth, a fact which cannot be denied. It is only by following, in faith, the principles laid out so clearly for us in scripture that we can begin to truly embrace the life of freedom that has been specially designed for us. "And the truth shall set you free" John 8:32. The world can be tempting, often times seem more enjoyable "as you taste the fruits of new sensations" How hard is it to try to tell someone not to have sex out of marriage, get drunk, speak however they like and essentially do whatever makes them happy? It's not always the easiest. Yet it is often those very things that seem at the moment to be the most enjoyable that are preparing to "rise up to challenge and kill" (see again John 10:10)
So the point is not that all rock songs are Christian, nor that we should listen to all rock music. For instance, in no way can I condone marilyn manson or slipknot because what they do and say is blatantly against the Bible and Jesus. However, I do think that All truth is God's truth. It doesn't matter how unconventional the origin of truth is, if it is true, then it is God's. End of story. It seems though the further away we get from things that can easily be labeled as Christian, the less likely we are to accept it as truth. As a result, I think that we as Christian's are missing a big ministry. It's hard to start conversations with our non-Christian friends about Jesus. I don't really do it because, well, I feel weird about. But music is such a unifying topic, and as these three examples show, even the most popular and non Christian of bands can be a great way to share the truth of Jesus. I hope I have the courage to not shrink away from truth because it is unconventional. I hope that I have the strength to speak that truth in whatever form it comes and I hope that God can grant me the desire to share His truth with all I come into contact with.