Is Bob Dylan’s “False Prophet” About Jesus?

 

false prophet

False Prophet

WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
1.
Another day without end – another ship going out
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in
2.
Hello Mary Lou – Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too

3.
I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

4.
I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls

5.
What are you lookin’ at – there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me
Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain side

6.
You don’t know me darlin’ – you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no False Prophet – I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head

7.
I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love – I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat
I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

8.
Put out your hand – there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth – I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil – look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill

9.
Hello stranger – Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule – you got a poisoned brain
I’m gonna’ marry you to a ball and chain

10.
You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile – somethings got to give
I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Copyright

© 2020 by Special Rider Music

 

 

 

 

Is Bob Dylan’s amazing song “False Prophet” about Jesus? More accurately, is the person speaking in the song meant to be Jesus? I think that we can count out the possibility that the song portrays Bob Dylan himself singing, unless we attribute to him a vast amount of megalomania expressed in lines like:

I’m first among equals – second to none

I’m the last of the best – you can bury the rest

Also, some of the statements of the singer seem quite impossible to attribute to Bob Dylan, amazing as he is. For he sings,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head;

I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail . . .

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet . . .

. . . I forgot when I died.

Moreover, the main line, “I ain’t no false prophet” may well be a claim that the singer is a true prophet, which then makes sense of the rest of the song. Of course Jesus Christ was not merely a prophet, although the New Testament portrays him prophesying things like the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies before the present generation of Israel was passed away. (See Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:20-31.)

This represents part of a negative case that the song is not meant to portray Dylan’s own “voice.”  But the stronger case is the positive one – the lyrics that together paint a portrait of some mysterious person or the persona thereof who “ain’t no false prophet.” I think that the overall portrait only makes sense if this person is Jesus, but particularly Jesus in a Christian trinitarian sense wherein Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit together are somehow (and confusedly so) one God. This means that the “making sense” may not necessarily be fully comprehensible as we will see.

The best way to try to demonstrate my thesis is to consider each of the ten stanzas in order and make some observations and propose various possibilities of meanings. I will call the persona “the Prophet” to keep things simple, but we will see that he is much more than that, and most probably divinity such as is “part” of the Triune God known in Christianity. (Of course that is the understanding of God that Dylan has specifically related himself to in times past and also related to others in his songs.)

In the first stanza the Prophet begins with “another day without end” – a reference to God’s point of view wherein “a day is as a thousand years?” (See 2 Peter 3:8) The “ship going out” perhaps signaling a feeling of homelessness – “Like a Rolling Stone.” The words  “Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt” seem to establish a “status quo” for the present nature of life. But the Prophet again seems to exist differently in relation to time than any ordinary human being, saying, “I know how it happened – I saw it begin.” Did the Prophet see creation itself, or the “fall of man” into sin? The closing line of this stanza is perhaps the most interesting and difficult to interpret of all:

I opened my heart to the world and the world came in.

Because of the development in the second stanza, it seems that this opening to and coming in of the world are positive occurrences. This statement then provides the ultimate context which is the relation of the Prophet, perhaps now also claiming to be the creator (John 1:1-3), to the world. The French philosopher activist, and Christian mystic Simone Weil proposed that when God first created something other than God’s self, that God was voluntarily performing an act of renunciation of God’s self. And in the giving of free will to human agents, God was also granting them independence and also creating the possibilities (and therefore “risk”) of relationship. What Dylan recognizes is the effect this has on God whose love was thereby “opened” to the world. The world coming in shows that God’s love did not diminish even when the world went astray. (This has huge applications to Christian life and what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “this worldliness.”

In the second stanza the Prophet introduces “Mary Lou” and “Miss Pearl” who seem to recall the relationships Jesus had with several Mary’s (his mother and Mary Magdalen) and their characters as being “Pearl” like. The rest of the stanza sings their praises and “fills in” important details of the ways “the world came in” so that these women are actually became “guides from the underworld” to Jesus just as humans in general were so for God from the beginning. The closing line of this stanza shows that some humans can “mean business” just as the Prophet does. In other words, some humans are “in sync” with God’s purposes – leading right to the next stanza.

The third stanza has the Prophet saying that he is the “enemy of treason” (revolt against God’s loving governance?) and of “strife” (bad love relationships between God & man and man & man?) He seems especially against “the unlived meaningless life” demonstrating that the Prophet is not arbitrarily against things, but against what is unprofitable for the loving human life God intended. The last line wondrously portrays the Prophet’s “heart” for the world either as himself “lonely” or seeking those “only the lonely” can go to.

I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know

I go where only the lonely can go

This is a far cry from Christopher Hitchens’ view of God as a totalitarian “Big Brother” who has 24/7 surveillance watching over all of his human creations to see if any are “out of line” and due for eternal punishment for not being perfect as God is.

The fourth stanza seems to wax more traditionally prophetic wherein this Prophet surpasses all other previous prophets (as was said in a historical sense of John the Baptist) and also in rendering a “judgment” of nakedness (a familiar image of Judgment for Dylan as in “It’s Alright, Ma – I’m only Bleeding”) and death for the materially rich (another image Dylan has used as in “Seven Curses” and even “The Times They Are A-Changin”). But Dylan has the Prophet nevertheless praying (or recommending others’ praying) “for their souls” so that the temporal “judgment” is a means to a better end for them.

The fifth stanza tantalizes with the Prophet, if one was to try to see him, as being beyond sight – with a cool breeze encircling him. Is this a reference to the prophet as the Holy Spirit, or at least in intimate relation with the Spirit? Is the next line, inviting the one addressed to “a walk in the garden,” meant to evoke Eden where “Adam and Eve” “heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 3:8) Note that the Hebrew word for “spirit” is also translated as “wind” and “breath.” Tying this stanza together as the Prophet is or exists in the Spirit’s “cool breeze.” The last line portrays the peace in Eden with God with the shade and fountain being other common biblical images of God’s kingdom peace.

The sixth stanza builds on the strange appearance (or non-appearance) of the Prophet as “ghostly.” Is this a way that Dylan says that Jesus, though presently unseen and only known through the Spirit, is nevertheless still a tangible incarnate human being existing beyond our present field of vision? But the Prophet is also just as tangible as any real flesh and blood prophet: not a false prophet; he “said what he said” just as he also “knows what he knows.” What is interesting here is that Dylan seems to be saying that the Prophet is engaging in prophetic speech and acts now, even if seemingly “invisible” to us at the present. Is Dylan insisting that Jesus is presently the Lord of all? Of course that’s the basic Christian confession and Dylan has never repudiated what he once said quite clearly in his “Born-again Christian” phase and has dropped many more subtle hints to that effect throughout his songs since that time. Fittingly so, the prophet proclaims,

I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head.

But what that “vengeance” means we have already seen to some extent and will see more of as not the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” but rather “sinners in the hands of a loving God.” The former is apt to view God’s angry vengeance as paramount; the latter more-so God’s loving grief. Of course there is undoubtedly a harmony (or maybe a hierarchy?) of God’s attributes that sometimes is misrepresented in theological formulations and common religiosity. I think vengeance is proper, but get the feeling from Dylan that for him it fits within an understanding of a pre-eminently loving God, more than in a pre-eminently just God.

The seventh stanza opens with the Prophet’s search for the holy grail – an interesting turn of phrase if this is the search of Jesus for what would be a holy grail to him – perhaps the relationship with humans God’s love longingly desires and seeks. To that end he sings songs of love and betrayal, of course Jesus having known those intimately in his earthly life. (Note the hierarchy of love, and then betrayal in that lyric.) To that end he didn’t care about purity laws regarding food and drink, nor the purity of those he sat at table with which brought him into considerable trouble with “society”. And to that end, in the Prophets search for the his holy grail he summarizes his sacrifice:

I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

It is also important to remember that “mountain” is a common biblical image of human government and that Jesus spoke of a mountain that needed to be overcome in his very day and instructed his followers to pray for that result. (See Mark 11:23)

We can also note that in the artistic image of the “False Prophet” the shadow image is of a hanging dead man – the only change is from the crucifixion tree to the lynching tree – a theme also used by Dylan and also by theologians such as James Cone who see victims of unjust societies participating in the cross of Christ. It is also appropriate that this song “False Prophet” shows how Christ has generally appeared to many or most, perhaps being evil or bringing death, with only the shadow revealing the truth that Christ’s own sacrificial death as a scapegoat overcame evil and death. It seems that the illustration of “False Prophet” may plainly be showing, through h shadow, that the song is about Jesus.

The eighth stanza has the Prophet addressing the wayward desires of we “poor devils”  and what God “gives” to us when we insist on such “rewards” – all the while the aforementioned “mountain” of man being overshadowed as shown in the video:

The City of God is there on the hill

The ninth stanza opens with the Prophet calling his addressee “stranger” when before he had said “darlin.'” Perhaps this is a different subject being addressed, perhaps even the devil himself – “you rule the land but so do I” showing the conflict and also that the Prophet (Jesus) is the one who really rules now. He calls the stranger “you lusty old mule” and characterizes him with “a poisoned brain.” Therefore he will be married to a “ball and chain.” Perhaps a reference to Revelation 20:1-2 where the devil is bound with a chain for “a thousand years.”

The tenth and final stanza has the Prophet again addressing a “darlin'” and saying that with his kind of life (of love) that when she smiles in response to his smile – “something’s got to give. Because the Prophet is not only “no false prophet” but also “nobody’s bride.” This is probably not meant to demean marriage, but rather to say that in the marital imagery common to the Bible, God is never the bride and humans are always the bride – and sometimes that to the wrong groom, for there is only one rightful bridegroom. As Dylan sang quite some time ago “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.” Possibly Dylan is  using that imagery here with Jesus still waiting for his wayward bride that he created and opened his heart to, from the beginning. The closing line of the song is quite interesting:

Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Of course none of us remembers being born but from the mouth of this Prophet that seems to take on added significance, perhaps alluding to something like what theologians call the eternal generation of the Son in the triune relationship of Father/Son/Spirit. The Prophet forgetting when he died could signify that God’s forgetfulness is perhaps a truly perfect forgetting, as God says that our sins he will remember no more. Perhaps the historic death of Christ who was the eternal Word was life itself  is now forgotten, just as mortality itself is according to scripture to be swallowed up by life and immortality.  (See John 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:50-56)

At any rate, this Prophet is quite the person, as we have hopefully seen. I recommend, having some of these associations in mind, which I think may well be allusions intended by Dylan, re-watching the video and letting the rich imagery and allusions lead to an encounter with the Prophet, who it seems is much more than a mere prophet.

It seems to me that this is one of the most powerful song Dylan has ever written. And certainly in regard to what I think he considers his biblical calling, he has perhaps crafted this song in which, rather than singing about or alluding to Jesus, he provides a mediation of Christ in the very song. And that, as far as I understand, is the prophetic vocation. Perhaps by not himself claiming to be the Prophet of this song, Dylan has nevertheless fulfilled the role of a prophet. And if so, we need to be open to this encounter to the one who “opened my heart to the world and the world came in.” But we come in as individuals, to whom the prophet says “Hello . . . my fleet footed guides to the underworld” and not, “Hello stranger – hello and goodbye.”

Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide

We can sit in the shade of the fountain side

Thanks for reading.

Bryan Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2020.

 

 

 

Fleetwood Mac’s “Lay it All Down” and the This-Worldliness of Redemption

In Fleetwood Mac’s 1971 album called “Future Games,” there was an interesting song about Moses and what his message basically amounted to in full. Perhaps a current Old Testament scholar may help us to understand the importance of the “message of Moses” in relation to understanding “redemption” as presented in the New Testament.

…we are prone to miss the amazing scope of God’s redemption, and especially its full bodied, this-worldly character, if we do not read the New Testament with the world view of the Old Testament as our basis and guide. (J. Richard Middleton, “A New Heaven and a New Earth“.)

So with that introduction in mind, presented in the video by Fleetwood Mac, is some of the “world view of the Old Testament” that can serve as our “basis and guide” to understanding the “full bodied, this worldly character” of redemption.  I find it quite interesting that Fleetwood Mac, or at least one or more of the members of the group, seemed to have more insight into the “scope of redemption” than many Christian teachers and scholars had or have, even to this day.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me retell
A story of old
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden calf
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

A whole lot of people, including myself
Thought the story of moses was just a tall tale
But all of the things that we see going on
Are just what moses set down

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

Let me retell
A story I know
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it down

(Instrumental)

Lay down, Lay down ….

Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
You’ve got to lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt …

Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

Any comments or questions are welcomed. Thanks for reading (and listening) – I hope you received something good from it all.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016

U2 – Theologians of the Cross?

rolling_stone_cover_oct2014_640

 

Crux sola est nostra theologia.

(The cross alone is our theology.)

Martin Luther

Luther

I have very much enjoyed listening to the new U2 Album “Songs of Innocence” that was made available for free by ITunes to me and multitudes of others. I had not been, listening much to U2 in the past decade or two, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. I was also intrigued that they were also still writing songs that not only reflected “Christian” themes, but that this collection seemed to contain a common and “most important” theological thread. Moreover, that thread happened to be one which I have been interested in for many years, but have been studying more intensively for about a year. It is also considered by those that believe in it, to be the only “theology” true to the name “Christian.” It is called the “theology of the cross.” My own introduction to it came several years back through Alister McGrath, and the catalyst for my re-introduction and current studies was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Through Bonhoeffer I went “back” to Luther, and then “forward” to Douglas John HallGerhard O. Forde, and Michael P. Knowles. I mention all of these potentially boring details in case the reader may want to pursue the “theology of the cross” more fully (follow the links).

What is the “theology of the cross?” A brief excerpt from the four years shy of 500 yr. old document published in 1518 by Martin Luther called the “Heidelberg Disputation” will introduce it for us:

Thesis 19

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened (or have been made, created).

Thesis 20

That person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God through suffering and the cross.

Thesis 21

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

So why do I think that U2 are “theologians of the cross” in this new album? (Disclaimer: This theory of mine is driven solely by the lyrical content of these songs, not by any knowledge of their personal or even public lives.) I think so because of the common theological “thread” running through the songs that I can only summarize as exhibiting a “theology of the cross.” At this point, rather than belabor my theory, I’ll let brief excerpts from each song be the witnesses for the theory. In the process perhaps the content of these excerpts will further fill in what a “theology of the cross” looks like. This perhaps is a proper way to understand it, because Gerhard O. Forde says it is more precisely not a theology “about the cross” but rather a theology “of the cross.”

The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

I was young

Not dumb

Just wishing to be blinded

By you

Brand new

And we were pilgrims on our way

 

Every Breaking Wave

Every sailor knows that the sea

Is a friend made enemy

 

California (There is No End to Love)

There’s no end to grief

That’s how I know

That’s how I know

And why I need to know that there is no end to love

 

Song for Someone

You’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty

I have some scars from where I’ve been

You’ve got eyes that see right through me

You’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen

 

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go

Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know

Hold me close, the darkness just lets us see

Who we are

I’ve got your life inside of me

 

Volcano

Your eyes were like landing lights

They used to be clearest blue

Now you don’t see so well

The future’s gonna fall on you

 

Raised by Wolves

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight

Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate

 

Cedarwood Road

Sleepwalking down the road

Not waking from these dreams

‘Cause it’s never dead it’s still in my head

 

Sleep Like a Baby Tonight

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

 

This is Where You Can Reach Me Now

Soldier soldier

We signed our lives away

Complete surrender

The only weapon we know

 

The Troubles

God knows it’s not easy

Taking on the shape of someone else’s pain

God now you can see me

I’m naked and I’m not afraid

My body’s sacred and I’m not ashamed

In conclusion, I believe  that a lyric in “Song For Someone” provides an integrative key to the thread, subsiding all the songs under the “theology of the cross.” The song also speaks to my disclaimer at the outset regarding the status of their “real” lives. For taken at face value, this seems to be a sincere confession of faith, showing U2 does not claim to have “arrived” at some type of “perfection” (which is a theology of glory anyway) but instead merely hope that whatever their light God won’t “let it go out.”

And I’m a long long way from your Hill of Calvary

And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be

If there is a light you can’t always see

And there is a world we can’t always be

If there is a kiss I stole from your mouth

And there is a light, don’t let it go out

I have tried in this post to in an introductory fashion merely introduce the “theology of the cross” and the relation of U2 to it. As always, and especially if I have “left you hanging” in any way,  would happily welcome any questions or comments regarding any of the songs, other excerpts, theologians/links, or anything else related to the post. Remember, nothing ventured – nothing gained!

I am adding this edit because since the time I wrote this post I started a facebook group wherein I plan in time to discuss some important issues that U2 raises for the Christian Church. In fact I have already posted a little bit about the last verses in “Cedars of Lebanon.”  Another post that explains more is here.

Thank you

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong”: Open-mindedness and the way forward

open_mind

Please open your eyes
Try to realize
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

Please open your mind
See what you can find
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

by Jack Bruce, 1967

“I found out today” that Jack Bruce had passed away. My thoughts naturally turned to my favorite song written by him, a  song that to me displays a surprisingly disproportionate combination of lyrical brevity and emotive power. So this post is in part a tribute to Jack Bruce and his song that i’ve enjoyed on several levels, but mainly an exploration of the possible meaning of the song.

Without knowing any personal context of Jack Bruce that may be behind the song, I’m left to begin with the historical context in which the song appeared: 1967. The sixties was, if anything, a calling being issued from many voices to “open our eyes” individually and collectively. It had become manifestly apparent to many that something had gone wrong in western civilization. Many thought we were on the verge of some type of  imminent conflagration based on factors including but not limited to war (hot or cold), prejudice, poverty, pollution, population, politics, and technology.

The call to open our eyes was a hope that we could be spared the destruction, to void the looming threat that “the gods first blind those whom they wish to destroy.” Perhaps a critical mass of opened eyes could counter the coming apocalypse. (Can it do so today?)

But for the time being, this truth and perhaps this alone, seemed apparent to the counterculture: “We’re Going Wrong.”

Of course, “open eyes” really only means “open minds” which Jack Bruce made explicit. But what does it mean to have an open mind? At that time it seemed to mean to many or most in the counterculture that we must abandon the very concept of universal/dogmatic truth which had merely enslaved humankind through false authority. Thus open-mindedness seemed to morph into broad-mindedness in which there is no ultimate truth, only individualistic “working truths” (whatever works for me/you).

The prince of wit G.K. Chesterton warned that,

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be any such thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas…

…When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. (from Heretics, chapter 20)

It seems probable that this “modern notion” of mental growth resulted in the sixties revolution being more destructive than constructive, in regard to any real progress toward “going right.”

If the counterculture was a failure in this regard, then it is natural to wonder why, unless destruction actually was the goal, and it is true that destruction (or discrediting) of what is false is necessary. But it seems more likely that the problem of failure is to be found deep in humankind itself, namely that we are a species prone to error.

To support this suggestion I’d like to look at a few ancient proverbs from the “New Living Translation” of the Bible. Here is the first:

Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

I do not think that this is meant to say that the difference between the wise and foolish woman is one of intention. I do not think the “foolish woman” intends to tear down her house. She intends to build it, but being “foolish” does not know how to succeed. And she is like all of us, inasmuch as we all intend to succeed. Blaise Pascal said this about the intention of all people:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. (Pensees, #425)

The second proverb says,

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.

This explains a simple fact, that we are all prone to err, with dire consequences. It is not our intention to die, but it is the consequence of self-direction. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
We are not able to plan our own course.

So to return to the first proverb, the wise woman is one that directs her steps according to the direction of God. This all means that the only positive answer to “We’re Going Wrong” is what is called “repentance.” In other words, the way ahead is to turn around. This is not an easy task. We all hate to be lost, to have to backtrack, to cut our losses of lost time and effort often spent with blood, sweat and tears. I think that the wise and foolish women both knew “blood, sweat, and tears” in their quest to build their house, but tragically only one was building while the other was tearing down.

C.S. Lewis knew how difficult it is for us to repent, due to our mistaken view of progress created by our aversion to being wrong.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man…There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on. (from “Mere Christianity,” chapter 5, 2nd paragraph)

Now a perceptive reader will note that believing that “We’re Going Wrong” may be difficult, but it is the easy part. The truly difficult part is where to go to “go right.” If it is true that the way that “seems right to us ends in death” and that we “are not able to plan our course,” then where shall we go? And it is precisely here that Jack Bruce left us, halfway turned around on our path to who knows where.

But it is here that God, with something called “good news” (gospel) creates a real turnaround by providing the ultimate destination. But I’m not merely talking about the notion that most of us have of “heaven.” I’ll let a few theological excerpts present gospel to us, and perhaps we will find two things. First, that we have not known the way “forward.” Second, that the good news of God’s destination will impel us forward.

The first theologian speaks of the “destination” in broad terms, given in terms applicable to all times and places.

Regeneration  is a state of things universally. It is the new state of things, the new eon, which the Christ brought; the individual “enters it,” and in so doing he himself participates in it and is reborn through participation in it. The message of conversion is, first, the message of a new reality to which one is asked to turn; in the light of it, one is to move away from the old reality, the state of existential estrangement in which one has lived. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume 2 “Existence and the Christ” p. 177)

The second theologian speaks of the “destination” in narrow terms, and is provided because God’s announcement of “good news” meets us all in the midst of or own specific life setting. This provides some concrete illustrations of what conversion may entail.

To begin anew meant, to Bonhoeffer to pass through a process of becoming aware of and avowing guilt, of repenting, of doing real penance, and of seeking for new foundations of living together beyond nihilism. But to begin anew also meant to grapple with and clarify the concrete experiences with people under the Hitler regime. And these were, in the majority, experiences of failure, of lack of civil courage, of thoughtless complicity, of lies violating one’s own conscience, of shutting ones eyes to obvious injustice, and of lack of concern about the suffering of others, whether because of fear or because of a narrowed range of perception. He deemed all of this possible only in a situation where people no longer felt urged, by a vital knowledge about the mission and meaning of their lives, to accept responsibility, but would accept, in thoughtless subordination the dictate of their superiors that the meaning of life lies in blind obedience. (Heinz Eduard Todt, “Authentic Faith – Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context,” p. 21)

Now that is an example of an opening of the eyes and mind that surely even surpasses that hoped for by the most well meaning “counterculturist.” For the truth is that the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom to “put the world to rights” also needed to include the provision of forgiveness for we humans that would rather mankind’s Savior be crucified in order to preserve our chosen self-direction, even our “countercultural” self-direction.

Could a “just” God merely “wink” at such murderous treason from his creation as though it was nothing? Bonhoeffer shows that the answer for all, especially for any that would like to follow him anew, is shown in that very place where Christ died:

Jesus died on the cross alone. abandoned by his disciples. It was not two of his faithful followers who hung beside him but two murderers. But they all stood beneath the cross: enemies and the faithful, doubters and the fearful, the scornful and the converted, and all of them and their sin were included in this hour in Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. God’s merciful love lives in the midst of its foes. It is the same Jesus Christ who by grace calls us to follow him and whose grace saves the thief on the cross in his last hour. (from “Discipleship,” Works Vol. 4, p. 40)

Thoughts, questions, kindly criticisms are welcomed. Thanks for your interest!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

U2’s “California (There is no End to Love)” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on loss

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“California (There is no End to Love)” contains the following lyric:

There’s no end to grief
That’s how I know

That’s how I know
And why I need to know that there is no end to love
All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love

U2

On Christmas Eve, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from Tegel prison to Renate and Eberhard Bethge. In the letter he wrote some things that seem to provide a good “theological” basis for what U2 sang in “California (There is no End to Love).” Bonhoeffer wrote:

“…there is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it. At first this sounds very hard, but at the same time it is a great comfort, for one remains connected to the other person through the emptiness to the extent that it remains unfilled. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness; God in no way fills it but rather keeps it empty and thus helps us persevere – even in pain – our authentic communion. Further, the more beautiful and full the memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into peaceful joy. One bears what was beautiful in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within. One must guard against wallowing in these memories, giving oneself entirely over to them, just as one does not gaze endlessly at a precious gift but only at particular times, and otherwise possesses it only as a hidden treasure of which one is certain.” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 238)

1 Corinthians 13:7 English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV)

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014

Comments or questions are always welcomed!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Poem “Christians and Heathens”

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People go to God when they’re in need,

plead for help, pray for blessings and bread,

for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.

So do they all. all of them, Christians and heathens.

 

People go to God when God’s in need,

find God poor, reviled, without shelter or bread,

see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.

Christians stand by God in God’s own pain.

 

God goes to all people in their need,

fills body and soul with God’s own bread,

goes for Christians and heathens to Calvary’s death

and forgives them both.

 

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8, Letters and Papers From Prison, pp. 460-61.

This poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is perhaps one of the most accurate statements in Christian theology regarding the  question of where God is, in relation to human need and suffering. I may try to elaborate more on its meaning in future posts.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014.

“Bluebird” by Jim White – A song about a life

Bluebird

A really great song I stumbled on by a musician previously unknown to me, named Jim White. It seems to be autobiographical and I generally find it interesting to listen to these types of songs and wonder about the person whose life has been expressed therein.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I hope you like this song and find it interesting also. Continue reading

“Of Folly” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer or “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: Do our politicians believe that, or are they counting on it?

Fooled again

“What matters in the long run is whether our rulers hope to gain more from the folly of men, or from their independence of judgement and their shrewdness of mind.” Continue reading

Is America now a nation of “the blind leading the blind”?

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The Blind Leading the Blind, illustration for ‘The Life of Christ’, c.1886-94 by Tissot, James Jacques Joseph (1836-1902); watercolour and gouache on paperboard; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Is America a now nation of “the blind leading the blind?” This post will present some evidences from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul, and Donald Bloesch, that seem to demonstrate that our “guided democracy” amounts to “the bind leading the blind.” Continue reading