For more than 20 years, Nick Cave has been cranking out some fairly bleak punk-influenced music with his band “The Bad Seeds.” The song you’re seeing performed live is on a more stripped-down, piano-based album called “No More Shall We Part.”
The lyrics are pretty straightforward – the community has created their own version of utopia. “God is in the house” they affirm. In the song Cave describes the way that in this suburban landscape, there’s no room for those who need the mercy of God.
Stereotypical? Sure. Harsh? Definitely. But behind it there’s some truth to the reality that religion can do more than merely cover over our personal stains – a subject we’ve discussed in previous posts – but actually neglect the care of others. One of the criticisms Jesus levels at the religious community of His day was that they were doing more harm than good:
“For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers…you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:46, 52)
The issue is often this: we assume that morality is the real problem. If morality is the problem, than society can be shaped and changed through behavioral modification. This is, at least partially, the message of Cave’s song.
Michael Horton picks up on this general theme, in asking the question: “What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city?:”
Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio.
Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached.” (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church)
Imagine a utopia where God’s mercy is simply not needed, where the greatest of joys is not Christ Himself, but being “good for goodness’ sake.” God is in the house. We’ve painted the fences white. But this kind of stale, robotic way of living is wholly alien to the life that Jesus continues to offer.