“What Good Am I?” – Bob Dylan and the Book of James

Oh Mercy

Another great song from Dylan’s 1989 masterpiece, “Oh Mercy.” Below is a link to hear the song, the lyrics, and some words that should open a window on Dylan’s source of inspiration for this song.

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music
Lyrics from bobdylan.com

“What good am I, if I say foolish things…”

James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

“What good am I while you softly weep, and I hear in my head what you say in your sleep, and I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try, what good am I?”

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…

“What good am I if I’m like all the rest, If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed, if I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry, what good am I?”

James 2:2 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

“What good am I if I know and don’t do, if I see and don’t say, if I look right through you…”

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

“What good am I?”

I wonder… could Bob Dylan have been reading the Book of James before he penned this song? Actually… I take that back… I don’t wonder. It’s an amazing thing to me to hear a song like this from someone of fame and fortune, like Bob Dylan. As they say, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. The book of James, which was most likely written by the half-brother of Jesus, is all about that level ground, and why even Christians often fail to stand there with humility.

James 1:9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

All scripture is from the English Standard Version
Comments, questions, critiques are always welcome!
BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013
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