I’d been meaning to download this song for about six months and finally got around to tracking it down on iTunes two days ago.
I really do not know if I’ve heard a song that speaks to humanity’s desperation for God in a universal and intimate way like this one does. It’s devastating.
For the past month I’ve been feeling really convicted about a presentation I gave at Biola’s Journalism conference last year. I couldn’t figure out why it was gnawing at me but I just knew I was wrong in some of what I’d said. Two events this week help me see very clearly where I’d gone wrong. The first was the passing of Larry Norman and the second was finding this song.
My dad gave me one of Larry Norman’s albums a year ago and declared, as he handed it to me, that it was one of his favorite Christian records of all time. I won’t go into Larry’s history or significance, I’ll just encourage you to read his wikipedia page and point out, to you younger readers, that Norman was in the unique and paradoxical position in Chrisitian music to be massive and influential, which meant that he got stones thrown at him from both the Christian and secular worlds, and that because of his influence he inspired people in the secular world you’d never expect; like Frank Black from the Pixies. Crazy.
Then, like I said, two days ago I finally got around to getting this song off of iTunes. I was led to it because I knew that the song playing in the background of a John Piper YouTube video I liked was a Jars of Clay song that sounded interesting. I know nothing about Jars of Clay other than they had one big hit in the 90’s and so I had to do a little investigating. After I figured it out I looked up the lyrics and saved them until I got home from the internet café.
I have never really liked Christian music. I’ve seen it as more often than not, reactive instead of progressive, defensive instead of ambitiously creative – it seems that more often than not Christian art is a parody of secular culture and well behind the curve. I said all this as I spoke at that conference, and then I traced the roots of Christianity’s withdrawal from the arts (and sciences) to Galileo and the Renaissance. I talked about the cultural walls we’d put up to keep ourselves “safe” and to keep the people we didn’t agree with out. In doing so though, we’d stopped influencing culture on an artistic level. I argued that there should only be Christian music that was specifically worship music and not the marketed sub-culture that has grown.
But what I see now, with the passing of Larry Norman, and this song is that if we eliminated Christian music as the umbrella industry it is, we’d be taking away a platform that allows for there to be poetic prophets. Prophets can speak with a guitar as easily as they can with a pen.
The familiar definition of a prophet is one who speaks God’s Word or His will, but there is another social dimension to it. Throughout the Bible, and history, prophets speak from a minority group against a majority group: Moses and Egypt, Isaiah and Assyria and Israel, Jeremiah and Babylon and Israel, and so on. They speak a message that is critical of the dominant power or ways of thought, they show how it will ultimately fail, and they offer an alternative view of the world. They point out social injustices and how far the world and our lives are from what God intended them to be.
Isaiah, Amos, and Moses all did that.
Spurgeon, Tozer, and Lewis all did that.
Those are names we would probably naturally think of if we thought of “prophet”. But would we think of “Larry Norman”? Would we think of the words in this Jars of Clay song? Would we think of Dustin Kensrue (though he’s not within the Christian industry, his words are as sweeping and pointed as any of those mentioned above)?
I want to write more but I have to get to the internet and I want to share this song with you this week.
Read the lyrics as you listen.
A fan of inspired guitars and pens,
Jars of Clay - "Oh My God"
Oh my God, look around this place,
Your fingers reach around the bone,
you set the break and set the tone
For flights of grace, and future falls
In present pain all fools say, "Oh my God."
Oh my God, why are we so afraid?
we make it worse when we don't bleed,
there is no cure for our disease.
Turn a phrase and rise again,
or fake your death and only tell your closest friends,
Oh My God.
Oh my God, can I complain?
You take away my firm belief and graft my soul upon your grief.
Weddings, boats, and alibis,
All drift away, and a mother cries...
Liars and fools, sons and failures, thieves will always say..
Lost and found, ailing wanderers, healers always say..
Whores and angels, men with problems, leavers always say..
Broken hearted, separated, orphans always say..
War creators, racial haters, preachers always say..
Distant fathers, fallen warriors, givers always say..
Pilgrim saints, lonely widows, users always say..
Fearful mothers, watchful doubters, Saviors always say..
Sometimes I can not forgive
and these days mercy cuts so deep,
If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep.
While I lay, I'd dream we're better, scales were gone and faces lighter,
When we wake we hate our brother, we still move to hurt each other,
Sometimes I can close my eyes and all the fear the keeps me silent,
Falls below my heavy breathing, what makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder, we all feel the need for wonder.
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the plunder.
Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven,
All the times I thought to reach up, all the times I had to give up.
Babies underneath their beds, in hospitals that cannot treat them.
All the wounds that money causes, all the comforts of cathedrals,
All the cries of thirsty children, this is our inheritance,
All the rage of watching mothers, this is our greatest offense
Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.