Ecclesiastes Rocks BY J.D. BUHL
“The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt.” Bono There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, an error that lies heavy upon humankind—the attribution of popular music to Satan, as in the old saw, “Rock and roll is the Devil’s music.” Satan no more invented rock and roll than he invented beer and football (a far more dangerous combination where I come from). Instead, as with so many of the pursuits with which we pass the days of our lives, the sinfulness found in rock music is our own. Rock and roll is just one more vanity and “a chasing after wind.” Ecclesiastes makes many Christians uncomfortable; its pessimistic, philosophical tone doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the biblical canon. The author, known only as “the Teacher,” presents God’s people at rock bottom. He does not hedge about our fate in those preSavior days: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” Nothing really matters, anyone can see Nothing really matters to me. Anyway the wind blows... Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” A keen if disillusioned observer of human futility, the Teacher attributes nothing to Satan; there is no scapegoat
here, only our tendency to give ourselves over to foolishness. He expects nothing more of us than this and commends us all to self-indulgence, “for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves.” When called demonic, rock musicians often claim to be nothing more than facilitators of such enjoyment, the reward for “all the toil with which one toils ... the few days of the life God gives us.” Try to set the night on fire, yeah. The time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire, Try now we can only lose and our love become a funeral pyre. The Doors, “Light My Fire” The Teacher’s starting point is that “God made human beings straightforward, but they have devised many schemes.” Whatever his eyes desired, he acquired; he got “singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh”—just as we give ourselves over to sex, drugs, and the romantic escapism of rock and roll to “make a test of pleasure.” Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go, I wanna be sedated. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, I wanna be sedated. The Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated” He turned then to wisdom. “The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness,” he says—but the same fate befalls each. Ecclesiastes asks what we accept as wisdom and what we consider knowledge. Much later Paul would write that both are perfected only in Christ, but here we’re on our own. So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell? Blue skies from pain? Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell? Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here” Rock and roll, like all pop culture, is in the dream business, and “dreams come with many cares, and a fool’s voice with many words.” The Teacher warns, however, “If the snake bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage in a charmer.” He saw that all skill derives from one person’s envy of another and that “fools fold their hands and consume their own flesh.” From Frankie Lymon to Brad Delp, we’ve watched rock’s snake charmers consume their own flesh and “die before [their] time.” The end of laughter and soft lies, The end of nights we tried to die. This is the end. The Doors, “The End” The Teacher anticipated the Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” by saying it is not from wisdom to ask “Why were the former days better than these?” Against the complaint that rock contains too few happy songs, the Teacher replies, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” He has seen righteous people die in their righteousness and the wicked flourish in their evildoing; time and chance affect everyone. “Do not be too righteous,” then, “and do not act too wise”; neither “be too wicked, and do not be a fool...It is good that you should take hold of the one, without letting go of the other; for the one who fears God shall succeed with both.”The best of rock lives this balance. It knows well that “the hearts of all are full of evil.” I know I’ve dreamed you a sin and a lie. I have my freedom but I don’t have much time. Faith has been broken, tears must be cried. Let’s do some living after we die. The Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses”
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Two of Ecclesiastes’ central messages are precisely those of rock and roll. The first: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” The Teacher extends this essential rockand-roll concern: “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?” Oh, those lonely nights. Two hearts are better than one.
Two hearts, girl, get the job done. Bruce Springsteen, “Two Hearts” Second, the proverbial evil-woman problem: “I found more bitter than death,” the Teacher reports, “the woman who is a trap, whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters.” I been tricked, trapped, by a tricky trapper She’s got me tied down, I can’t get free She’s got her hooks, got her hooks in me. The Chairmen of the Board, “Tricked and Trapped”
The Teacher concludes, “One who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.” Without this cautionary truth we might have no popular music at all. The boundless knowledge of rock, blues, and soul in this area is often the very aid one needs to escape such snares, thereby pleasing God. Who’d’ve thought? J.D. Buhl, who teaches English and literature at Queen of All Saints School in Concord, Calif., has been a rock-and-roll and Ecclesiastes fan for as long as he can remember.
TOWARD A BIBLICAL AGENDA March 28-30, 2008 at Palmer Seminary of Eastern University (Philadelphia)
How should I vote in 2008? What issues are most important to God? What does the Bible say about abortion, gay marriage, and immigration? What about foreign policy, including the conflict in Iraq? And overcoming poverty in the U.S. and around the world? Keynote addresses and workshops at this timely and important conference will explore these and other questions to help Christians apply biblical values in the socio-political realm, including the voting booth. It’s a conference that all who strive to be faithful to the gospel in the public square should not miss. For more information or to register, call
or visit www.esa-online.org.
Speakers include those pictured and more . . . Sponsored by Palmer Seminary’s Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy and Evangelicals for Social Action.
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