I was driving somewhere in the Poconos in that other world beyond the Philadelphia city limits during our vacation. I decided to turn on the radio which was set to the usually-blue-state NPR. However, the frequency beaming in from Honesdale was not NPR, it was WZZH coming at us with The Word FM. I don’t listen to “Christian” radio very often, so it is usually rather enlightening for me to dip into the subculture. This dip was unusually so.
When I first heard Mandisa singing Overcomer I was a little taken aback because she reminded me of Jane Fonda’s workout song from the 80’s. But then I decided, “No, this is a very encouraging song and you need to go with the positive flow of this perky radio station.” Immediately, I could imagine one of my most positive friends doing her signature wedding-reception dance moves to Mandisa.
Take a breath.
Hang on to his promises.
He wants you to know
you’re an overcomer!”
Good sermon, and it has a beat.
Good to Be Alive
But Mandisa is not all that is happening out there. I was less impressed by Jason Gray’s Good to Be Alive. Not only is the video terrible, but the catchy chorus is laced with that strange “holiness” theology that makes me kind of crazy.
I want to live like there’s no tomorrow,
Like I’m on borrowed time.
It’s good to be alive.
I won’t take it for granted.
I won’t waste another second.
All I want is to give you a life
Well lived to say, “Thank you.”
Now before I sound critical, I think there are some good reasons to sing Jason’s song:
1) I won’t take it for granted. You realize how entitled you think you are and you want to live like you recognize that whatever you have is given to you (1 Cor. 4:7).
2) I want to live. You are tired of being low-level depressed, are changing your focus, and allowing yourself to live your life (John 10:9-11).
3) I won’t waste another second. Your have decided to work with Jesus on his redemption project and you understand how brief the time is to do that before he returns or you die (Romans 13:10-12).
4) Say, “Thank you.” You want to be mature enough to base your life on gratitude and receive each moment with praise (1 Thess. 5:17-19).
It is good to be alive and God has showed his goodness by making us and redeeming us!
The curse of bad thinking
There are blessings on the radio to be received from good-hearted people with good singing voices. But there are a couple of viewpoints in Jason’s catchy lyric that I don’t want stuck in my head. They are kind of cursing me.
1) I’m not sure Jesus freed me from death so I would feel like I was living on “borrowed time” (that is, time after one would normally expect to be dead). I was dead in sin, true, but that’s the fact of my old life. Likewise, I don’t think Jesus wants me to live like “there’s no tomorrow,” as if today were all I have. Isn’t that the condition from which I was rescued? I think he wants me to ease right into eternity and fearlessly be eternal. Yeah.
Is there some reason we are supposed to think that we don’t deserve the grace we have been given? Isn’t it a bit insulting to God to think he would come for undeserving creatures who he says he loves but doesn’t really need or respect? Are we redeemed to keep acting like unredemption is a short step off our tight rope?
2) The more dangerous aspect of this song is the promise not to take life “for granted” or “waste” any of it, thereby proving that I am worthy of it. I’m not sure I am supposed to give myself a rubric for successfully operating the Jesus life. I think some people misconstrue the idea of living as an act of worship (Romans 12:1-3) to mean that they are giving their life back to God as a sacrifice – something like: Jesus gives me himself; I give myself back, and we’re even. This reminds me of an even more subversive song covered by Kurt Cobain – he got the problems with the theology.
Is there some reason we are supposed to be perpetually getting over the hump with the amount of thankfulness we are expressing for our salvation? Is Jesus so insecure that he will be offended if you don’t turn to him, as he is walking beside you all day, and say, “I’m walking beside you to give you a life that says ‘thank you?’” I think he’d be more moved if we just lived with a thankful heart and didn’t think we were proving it by doing something that pointed to how we were doing it. When I hear another “asprirational” song that says “I want to” do something, I often want to yell at the radio, “So just do it! And quit talking about yourself!”
OK, let’s settle down. I just want to object enough so we don’t start thinking that our actions produce the worthiness we long for. We can’t say thanks enough. Let’s accept that, say thanks, and live like we have an endless amount of tomorrows to be our true selves.
Sing as you go, if you like. You’re an overcomer.