Tonight I was dwelling on a song that was one of my earliest favorites and remains a favorite of mine, “This Man” by Jeremy Camp. As I was thinking about it, and attempting to put into words how it made me feel when I was eleven and twelve years old, and how it makes me feel now, I had the thought of doing a series of posts discussing some of my most favorite songs, why they are my favorite songs, and how God has pursued my heart through them. I’ll be talking about “This Man” in a future post, but for now, I want to say some introductory things to set the stage for what will follow. (Note: these posts will carry on sporadically with no definite end. They will not be an uninterrupted series, but will be interspersed with writings on other subjects.)
When that song was released to radio in 2005, I didn’t have access to an iPod or a high-speed internet connection. Spotify didn’t exist, Youtube was brand new, and our modem connection would, of course, hardly support anything requiring much in the way of data transfer. (I recall how, in the few times a week I was allowed to use our dial-up internet, I would wait patiently for several minutes at a time to load the MLB.com site). Nor did I have much in the way of discretionary income that could be spent on CDs. Add to all of this my parents’ disagreements between themselves about what sort of music they wanted their children to listen to, and my desire to stay out of that conflict, which led me to be secretive about giving too many honest indications to either parent what I really enjoyed or wanted to listen to. The result was that during my pre-teen and early teen years my free experience of the music that resonated with me most was limited mostly to evening hours when one or both parents were out and I could make free use of one of the radios in the house.
At that time I had no personal interest in the popular secular music, and indeed very little experience from which such an interest might arise. What I did enjoy (although at time with some reserve and a nagging sense of guilt, inspired mostly by my mother’s discomfort and general opposition to it) was the mainstream contemporary Christian music which was broadcast on four different FM stations in the suburbs of Chicago where I lived (and still live to the present). Probably in part because it was so much of the all that I had, I connected very deeply with the music. Not that I embraced all of it without any distinction in my preferences. Some songs I liked better than others, and a few songs I found to be annoying. But a few of the Christian songs that were popular on the radio from 2004 or 2005, when I really began paying attention, to 2009 or 2010, when my tastes (due in part to somewhat misguided moral impulses) began to turn in a different direction, provided the real soundtrack of those turbulent, conflicted years of my life (about which more will be written in future).
I had always, to some extent, known that I was a sinner, and also known that the only hope for my redemption was somehow to be found in the cross of Jesus Christ. God, however, seemed for almost all of the time to be very distant to me. This was partly because of brokenness and conflict in my own family that I did not know how to reconcile with the things we all said we believed, which brokenness and conflict led to distance in my relationship with both of my parents (although the distance was more pronounced and more honest in my relationship with my father). I really believe it was these crises, and an attempt to somehow escape the pain of them, which led to battles with ideas like solipsism and atheism in my pre-teen and teen years (about which I may write more later). If my experience is any indicator–and indeed, I think there is more than just my experience or even the experiences of others that speaks to the reality of this–there is no such thing as an honest atheist, or an honest solipsist. Ideas like these, as I understand, are simply ideological compensations for the pain of life in whatever form it comes–guilt, disappointment, grief over our own losses or sympathetic anger about the losses and hardships of others, and so forth. In saying this, I do not in any way mean to ridicule or belittle those who consider themselves atheists or solipsists. If you leave a man on his own (which is where all of us are without Christ), the pain of the world we live in and the life we live in it is a weight that will crush him. There are many, many kinds of suicide, only one of which stops a beating heart. Cutting all sense of connection to God or reality is something that a person might do as deliberately to bring an end to the pain of this life as cutting his own veins. In saying all this, my point is that while there is really no such thing as an honest atheist or an honest solipsist, there are honestly broken people who have chosen to not be honest with themselves and others about what they instinctively know to be true because, for reasons that are not entirely personally their own fault, what they know to be true is more than they can bear. I think those of us who are secure in the knowledge of the love of God should have compassion on them because God has compassion on them. I also think those of us who are not secure in the knowledge of God or His love must look to Jesus, and realize that in Him God has revealed His compassion for us, and having realized this, learn to have for ourselves some of the pity that He has for us.
At any rate, if I can point to any one factor in my life that, more than any other, kept me from letting myself go headlong into the spiritual hypothermia of those doubts about God and reality, it was music made by God’s people. There was something in the songs that tethered me to Hope. There was a love that echoed in the music and the words which, although no lengths of reassurance seemed to be able to convince me that it was really mine for the taking, I still could not let go of (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it would not let go of me). I didn’t know at all how to draw near, or even that I could; but at the same time I dared not forget it and pass it by, or let it pass me by. The moment I began to forget, I felt myself slipping into a nameless lostness in which there was no meaning, no point of reference, and no hope; and with all that I could muster of Puddleglum‘s defiant good sense and resolution, I raged against it, day after day, year after year. It wasn’t until my 16th year that I really for the first time came to understand myself as fully accepted with God through what Jesus did in His death and resurrection. For some people, that understanding (and of course the conviction of sin that must precede it) crashes in while they are going their way without much conscious pursuit of knowing God. For others like me, it comes after a lot of grappling and seeking and getting lost in one’s head and ultimately finding one’s way out into the wide reality of the love of God outside of us in which He beckons us to lose ourselves. Either way, whether we realize it or not, it is God pursuing us.
In the same way that human affection is inclined to attach itself to any place or object or thing which is associated in memory with the fondest experiences of every kind of love (whether it be familial or romantic love, or the love of friendship), my love of music is due in large part to the way that God pursued me through music. To talk about the songs I love is to talk about how God has loved me, and how I have become who I am through that love. There will as a result be some fragments of autobiography in the posts that follow in this series, and I hope those who read them will find in them something of interest that they can connect with and that may help them reflect on their own experiences.