A Silent Film on the Absurdity of Relationships

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One of my favorite songs right now is Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat by the alt-rock band A Silent Film. I remember when I first listened to it a couple weeks ago – it seemed like a nice jam with a pleasant melody, until I heard the second verse:

The Heart is deceitful above all things

So desperately wicked, and who can really know it? Are you listening?

And if you know what I’m talking about

Let me feel your heartbeat, let me feel your heartbeat beat beat

The first two lines are almost an exact quote of Jeremiah 17:9, the classic proof-text in the Bible about the depravity of man. They seemed out of place because the song then launched into a call for intimacy in the chorus:

When it’s closing time and the night is young, do you need a friend to help you on?

You can lean on me and I’ll carry our bones home

As the stars explode in the sky above and the pieces fall back down to earth

If you lean on me then I’ll let you feel my heartbeat, let you feel my heartbeat

I love these lines because they confront the absurdity of relationships head on. Theoretically friendship of any kind should not work. Assuming that the human heart is in fact deceitful above all things, desperately wicked, and unsearchable, then it would intuitively follow that any sort of meaningful relationship – romance, friendship, father, daughter, etc. – is a lose-lose proposition. I mean, let’s take the fundamental problem here, a wicked human heart, and put two or more of them right next to each other so that they can feel each other beat.

How could that ever work? When two self-centered entities come together, they tend not to dissolve into harmony. They clash and oppose one another; they take from the other to enrich themselves; they render judgment upon the other so that they can puff themselves up; they impose discomfort on the other so that they can have pleasure.

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It sure gives me pause, sometimes, about opening up, especially when under the hood of my generally nice-looking life you find a heart that is often distressed and insecure and looking down on others and consumed with its own well-being. It really isn’t all that attractive. It’s easy for me to feel justified in this fear because I will inevitably hurt the people I bring closest to me.

Living on the surface is much easier. The superficial feels safer, except that it’s just that – fake. You can’t sustain a lie indefinitely. You can’t keep all the pressures bottled up and out of sight and out of mind. It’s not good to be alone. Many suicides and overdoses and anonymous forums testify to this. People seem just fine and happy to the outside world, while on the inside sorrow destroys them. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if there’s anything worse than not being known – not being understood.

Experience, then, teaches us that isolation is no way to live. There’s nothing for it but to move into that dangerous space around people, accepting the risk. C.S. Lewis confronts the paradox in this much-quoted passage from The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Wrung and possibly broken. Possibly may be an understatement. The song acknowledges this in the opening lines:

The devil puts words in my mouth when we’re close

And you’re like the snow in spring, ever receding

Here we have the confession. When we start getting that heart-on-heart contact, I screw up. I say evil, hurtful things. I break you. And you understandably pull back from his. You try to shut yourself away so you can’t get hurt. But like that snow in spring, it leaves you melting into nothingness.

There is no greater asset in this world than the friend who sticks closer than a brother. As the ancient sage says in Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

If you know what I’m talking about, let them feel your heartbeat.

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Dealing With God Relationally

Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.

What sort of response does that elicit in you? Is it a deep well of encouragement? Does the language rub your theological sensibilities the wrong way or make you uncomfortable? Does it seem incomplete, shallow, or trite?

Without further context, it’s obviously hard to render any clear judgment on such a statement. In principle, however, it boils down to the question of relating to God. What does it mean for a Christian to have a relationship with God? What does it look like, or what should it look like? I hear this discussion crop up particularly often in the context of Christian music. The proliferation of “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend”-esque songs in the Contemporary Christian Music scene and the creation of a allegedly “relevant” Christian subculture have drawn attention and criticism to this idea of dealing with God relationally. In fact, a song on a Christian radio station recently raised the question in my mind and prompted this post.

We need to deal with this issue carefully and thoughtfully. One way to understand the nature of sin, after all, is that it destroys relationships. Central to the nature of God is that He is triune, three persons in one, and the members of the trinity exist in perfect, beautiful relationship with each other. In the Bible we are called to  relate to God as a Father.

It’s hard to keep a proper focus on this. I grew up in a church that heavily emphasized sound doctrine. Identifying false teachers and critiquing shallow theology was the norm. The Bible certainly requires this, to a degree, but sometimes Christians reach a point at which our study of theology retards the dynamic, relational experience of following Christ. For example, I distinctly remember a moment in Sunday School class, probably about ten years ago, where the teacher was talking about Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. He quoted a point where Warren basically says that more than anything, “God wants to have a relationship with you.”

“God doesn’t want a ‘relationship,'” the teacher responded with disdain, “He wants you to repent.”

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