"And I don't want to die...
But sometimes I wish I'd never been born at all...."
Queen; "Bohemian Rhapsody"
"And He gave us life, in His perfect will;
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still."
Fernando Ortega; "I Will Praise Him Still."
I remember once, growing up, my friend Steve opined that while my musical choices were not particularly out there, they did combine elements he was always startled to see together. I think this comment was made at a record store where I had just bought cassette tapes of the Pretenders Learning to Craawl and Amy Grant's The Collection.
Granted, I don't think Steve knew too many people besides me who listened to any CCM, so I guess that combined with anything seemed like a strange marriage (or being "unequally yoked" as most CCM listeners would probably say).
Today I don't listen to cassettes any more, but my Ipod shuffle can make such juxtapositions all the more frequent by throwing together songs from the recesses of my music library that, in the past, would never have been played one after the other.
Case in point--earlier this week it spit out Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Fernando Oretga's "I Will Praise Him Still" and I've been thinking about how wide is the gulf not just between the two artists and their genres but in the psychological and spiritual state embedded in the songs.
I don't know too many postmodern people who fret about hell when they think of the afterlife. With skeptical agnosticism or downright atheism, the new fear is that of nothingness, non-existence. If Christ was not risen from the dead, St. Paul wrote, then we are deceived and the most pitiable of men. Because, absent a life after this life, consciousness, life, is really a curse rather than a blessing, an awareness of one's eventual extinction. Better to have never been born than to be born only to a life of constant psychological torment. Yet, again, absent a life after this, life is the only imperative. One cannot choose to hasten the move into nothingness, can't want to die. Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for all its operatic kitchy-ness, is a painful song (to me, anyway).
In contrast, Ortega's hymn of praise is about as far at the other end of the spectrum as could be. Because life, all life, is a gift of God, it is the subject of praise--even if our current circumstances are painful, confusing, or seen and understood imperfectly. Because His will is perfect, one can trust that the conditions one must endure to receive the greater (and greatest) gifts are necessary ones, and that what seems unnecessary or what we wish we could have not had, will actually be the thing that leads to the greatest praise because we could not have had true life (life eternal, not merely temporary consciousness) any other way.
I'm grateful for both songs...for artists who document the questions and doubts and fears as well as those who remind us that there are answers for the questions, encouragement to face the fears, and good news, gospel, to speak to the doubts that permeate the very air we breathe in the culture in which we life.