Hearing God in Heavy Metal?

I am not a heavy metal fan. Normally, I don’t listen to heavy metal music. But inspired by John Van Sloten’s book, The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything (Square Inch, 2010), my York students and I decided to dialogue on the topic of music in one of our Thursday night “Theology over Pizza” sessions. Students were invited to share some of their favourite music pieces – whatever genre – and share a little of why they liked that music, and how it may touch them on a spiritual level.

Symphonic Metal

So, first up was a student who liked heavy metal. So, I not only listened to heavy metal that night but also learnt a few things about the genre. For instance, I learnt that there are different kinds of metal – power metal, death metal, symphonic metal, etc. – each with a slightly different sound. And if I wasn’t taught how to differentiate them, I couldn’t hear the difference at all. Mostly, though, I had a hard time hearing the lyrics in the metal songs. So, up till recently, heavy metal music was largely “noise” to me! All I could hear was jumbled, loud, angry noises.

But thanks to my students, I am hearing heavy metal a little differently. I am a little more discerning of the different metal genres and making out the lyrics a little better. Interestingly, I am discovering that I kind of liked symphonic metal. Here’s one of the symphonic metal songs we heard that night, Epica’s Cry for the Moon, which I really enjoyed. The blending and the juxtaposing of symphonic sounds with metal sounds were pretty cool. And I also liked the lyrics, which are below.

 “Cry for the Moon” by Epica

Follow your common sense

You cannot hide yourself

Behind a fairytale forever and ever

Only by revealing the whole truth can we disclose

The soul of this sick bulwark forever and ever

Forever and ever

 

Indoctrinated minds so very often

Contain sick thoughts

And commit most of the evil they preach against

 

Don’t try to convince me with messengers from God

You accuse us of sins committed by yourselves

It’s easy to condemn without looking in the mirror

Behind the scenes opens reality

 

Eternal silence cries out for justice

Forgiveness is not for sale

Nor is the will to forget

 

Follow your common sense

You cannot hide yourself

Behind a fairytale forever and ever

Only by revealing the whole truth can we disclose

The soul of this sick bulwark forever and ever

 

Virginity has been stolen at very young ages

And the extinguisher loses its immunity

Morbid abuse of power in the garden of Eden

Where the apple gets a youthful face

 

Eternal silence cries out for justice

Forgiveness is not for sale

Nor is the will to forget

 

Follow your common sense

You cannot hide yourself

Behind a fairytale forever and ever

Only by revealing the whole truth can we disclose

The soul of this sick bulwark forever and ever

Forever and ever

 

Eternal silence cries out for justice

Forgiveness is not for sale

Nor is the will to forget

 

You can’t go on hiding yourself

Behind old fashioned fairytales

And keep washing your hands in innocence

 

Echoes of Scripture

When I hear Epica’s song, I am reminded of Jesus’ harsh condemnation of the Pharisees’ brand of religiosity in Matthew 15 and 23: “You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ … they [the Pharisees] are blind guides of the blind.” (Matt. 15:7-14 NRSV)“… they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matt. 23:3-4)

Can you hear the echoes in Epica’s lyrics? “Indoctrinated minds so very often/ Contain sick thoughts/ And commit most of the evil they preach against/ Don’t try to convince me with messengers from God/ You accuse us of sins committed by yourselves/ It’s easy to condemn without looking in the mirror/ Behind the scenes opens reality”.

Jesus was really harsh on the Pharisees, self-proclaimed messengers of God, stuck in their hypocrisy, hiding behind their fairytales (human traditions), judging others for sins they themselves commit (“he who is without sin, cast the first stone”). Whether this depiction of the Pharisees were accurate or not, we often overlook the fact that Jesus’ harshest words were always reserved for the religiously self-righteous but he was relatively more tender or gracious for the “sinners” (moral and social outcasts) of his day.

I hear other Biblical echoes, like the Old Testament prophets’ cries against injustice, but I will leave those alone for now. Because some of you may be wondering at this point what I am doing. Taking Epica’s angry lyrics out of context? Making them equal to Scripture? Am I being heretical?

Theological Foundations

Christian Reformed Pastor and author John Van Sloten faced the very same objections and accusations when he started preaching from Metallica’s songs and other pop culture materials. Van Sloten bases his methodology on two theological foundations rooted in the 16th century Protestant Reformation:

  1. All truth is God’s truth and,
  2. God speaks to us through two books: the book of Scripture and the book of Creation.

Van Sloten quotes the famous reformer John Calvin:

“Whenever we come upon these matters [truth] in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn [show contempt toward] and reproach the Spirit himself. (From Institutes, 2.2.15)” (Metallica p. 24)

In sum, all truth is God’s truth, wherever it is found, in secular writers, in atheist scientists, even in heavy metal music.

Secondly, Van Sloten points to the Belgic Confession, a well-known 16th century confession that many Reformed denominations worldwide, including my own Christian Reformed Church, still holds to:

“We know [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own. (Article 2)” (p. 59)

Van Sloten derives two main principles from these two theological foundations: co-illumination and counterbalancing:

“By co-illumination I mean that the truth contained in the Bible brings light and understanding to the truth contained in broader creation and culture, and the converse: that the truth revealed in creation and culture can illumine the truth revealed in the Bible.” (p. 58)

 “When you believe that God reveals himself through two different texts, it’s natural to assume that those two texts are interconnected. This interconnection brings a counterbalancing influence to the reading of either text. God’s revelation through the Bible tethers, holds in balance, and offers perspective on God’s revelation through nature and human culture, and God’s revelation through culture has the same effect on the Bible. … It holds your understanding of these two revelations in a healthy tension, and prevents falling into unhealthy spiritual extremes [of Bible worship or nature/culture worship].” (p. 58)

These are the theological foundations and principles that justify and inform what Van Sloten does and what I am trying to do with this post. I am learning, via Van Sloten, to hear God’s voice better through his book of Creation (and human cultural creations derived from God’s creation). As it was between me and heavy metal, most of what I heard in pop culture in the past sounded like mere “noise” and not God speaking. I am slowly learning to discern God’s voice, God’s truths, in the midst of the cacophony. I am beginning to hear the nuanced differences between the various cultural and creational sounds, differentiating God’s truths from human lies.

Learning to Hear God

As one dimension in the three-dimensional Christianity that I envision, this skill of cultural discernment is of utmost importance for Christians to develop. This is a worldview “that holds that God is deeply involved everywhere and in everything he has made.” (Metallica p. 74) I recommend Van Sloten’s book as an aid in that direction. Hence, my student group at York – Leadership, Culture and Christianity – is sponsoring a study group this semester called “The Everywhere God” based on topics from the book.

Just for fun, here are three more songs (with lyrics) from our “Theology over Pizza” music sharing and discussion. The first two are student selections and the last one is mine. As you can see, we spanned a wide range of pop music genre that night!

Why don’t you try out the cultural discerning exercise with them on your own? Where do you hear God speaking in these songs? Some of the songs are pretty easy. I would like to see your comments on what you discover and what you are hearing.

“Authority” by John Cougar Mellencamp

Oh, they like to get you in a compromising position
They like to get you there and smile in your face
Well, they think they’re so cute when they got you in that condition
Well I think it’s a total disgrace, and I said

I fight authority, authority always wins
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins
Well, I’ve been doing it since I was a young kid, I come out grinnin’
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins

So I call up my preacher
I say, “Give me strength for Round 5”
He said , “You don’t need no strength, you need to grow up son”
I said, “Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying
And dying to me don’t sound like all that much fun”
So I said

I fight authority, authority always wins
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins
Well, I’ve been doing it since I was a young kid, I come out grinnin’
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins

I said ?Oh no no no?, I said ?Oh no no no?
I said ?Oh no no no?
I fight authority, authority always wins

Well, I’ve been doing it since I was a young kid, I come out grinnin’
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins
Well, I fight authority, authority always wins

“Jesus Take The Wheel” by Carrie Underwood



She was driving last Friday on her way to Cincinnati
On a snow white Christmas Eve
Going home to see her Mama and her Daddy with the baby in the backseat
Fifty miles to go and she was running low on faith and gasoline
It’d been a long hard year
She had a lot on her mind and she didn’t pay attention
she was going way too fast
Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass
She saw both their lives flash before her eyes
She didn’t even have time to cry
She was so scared
She threw her hands up in the air

Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel

It was still getting colder when she made it to the shoulder
And the car came to a stop
She cried when she saw that baby in the backseat sleeping like a rock
And for the first time in a long time
She bowed her head to pray
She said I’m sorry for the way
I’ve been living my life
I know I’ve got to change
So from now on tonight

Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel

Oh I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
Save me from this road I’m on
From this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel
Oh take it take it from me
Oh

“If Today Was Your Last Day” by Nickelback

My best friend gave me the best advice
He said each day’s a gift and not a given right
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by
That first step you take is the longest stride

If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last
Leave old pictures in the past?
Donate every dime you had, if today was your last day?
What if, what if, if today was your last day?

Against the grain should be a way of life
What’s worth the price is always worth the fight
Every second counts ’cause there’s no second try
So live like you’re never living twice
Don’t take the free ride in your own life

If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past?
Donate every dime you had?
And would you call those friends you never see?
Reminisce old memories?
Would you forgive your enemies?
And would you find that one you’re dreaming of?
Swear up and down to God above
That you’d finally fall in love if today was your last day?

If today was your last day
Would you make your mark by mending a broken heart?
You know it’s never too late to shoot for the stars
Regardless of who you are
So do whatever it takes
‘Cause you can’t rewind a moment in this life
Let nothing stand in your way
‘Cause the hands of time are never on your side

If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past?
Donate every dime you had?
And would you call those friends you never see?
Reminisce old memories?
Would you forgive your enemies?
And would you find that one you’re dreaming of
Swear up and down to God above
That you’d finally fall in love if today was your last day?

Related posts: “Is it wrong for churches to be cool?” “U2: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Cohen’s Hallelujah

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About Shiao Chong

Editor in Chief of The Banner, official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Formerly CRC Campus Minister serving at York University in Toronto, Canada. (All postings here are my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of the CRC or of The Banner.)
This entry was posted in 3D-Christianity, Campus Ministry, Culture, Videos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Hearing God in Heavy Metal?

  1. Doug Buggins says:

    I would like to add a few of my own thoughts. My take on metal was much the same as our illustrious host, Shiao Chong. Loud angry noise. After a friend introduced me to Epica I was forced to change my opinion. God’s vast light and wisdom shines through their lyrics. Think of it as listening to an opera and different parts are performed according to the ‘character’ who is portraying them. Holy works have been written, rewritten, edited, destroyed, translated, re-translated and so on by men with often political motivations. That is not to say God’s light does not shine through but at times seeing His light in these works is akin to looking at the sun from the forest floor filtered through the canopy of trees.

    Explore the origins of the Christian Bible and other works. There is truth in science and I believe science is on the verge of proving God whether it wants to or not. Jesus taught reincarnation – Matthew 11:13-14 re: Elijah=John the Baptist as just one example. Reincarnation was taught until about 550 AD when about that time Theodora, wife of Byzantine emperor Justinian had most references removed to she could be a god. Look it up, tons of info about it out there. Then I believe it wasn’t until around 1100 AD that the church began to officially denounce reincarnation.

    Reincarnation changes the game.

    I also read as many apocryphal texts as I can. Some are the obvious work of trolls inserting their own twisted works into the fray.

    Did you know that Jesus’s name was not even Jesus? It was Joshua. Yeshua, which is always translated as Joshua, except for Jesus. Would a rose by any other name….? Just pointing out an example of the level of editing done to the Bible.

    Look up a work called “Sayings of Jesus” – it is a short but amazing read.

    Be Still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) – It is referring to meditation folks. Not Hollywood object oriented meditation but finding the peace of the absence of all thought at which point after much practice God will be made known and your life will never be the same. For more information google the “I” method or “Self enquiry” common in Hinduism.

    *Warning* When I began meditating, I thought I knew enough about it, harmless right? Well, maybe harmless in the big picture but there is a point you will reach in time some call “the terror of the threshold” referring to the threshold to “the void”. Each person has a different experience but you will face your own death. I was so sadly unprepared and lets just say it was the most traumatic experience in my life. I have been shot at, beaten and faced actual death many times and nothing, nothing nothing compared to this. Read up and be prepared because just beyond the threshold you will be bathed in God’s warmth.

    Another point to ponder. Did you know Jesus quoted Krishna? If you have read this far, please research it. Do your own research, ask God for Guidance. Seek and you WILL find!!

    Listen to Epica’s “Design Your Universe” for some more amazing examples of God’s light shining through these folks.

    From the song “Kingdom of Heaven”

    All that we can ever see
    Until we leave this frail existence
    Is just a shadow of reality
    Death is not the final instance

    It’s not your time
    You have to go back… back!
    Now!

    No, no, I don’t want to return,
    Please let me stay here, don’t make me go back

    Go back, you’ve got work to do

    We’re not alone, we are all one.

    Nothing here will be the same
    The smallest bit is as big as nature
    Our limited capacities
    Gives us trouble to comprehend

    We are linked in every way
    And we’re strong as our weakest fragment
    Every word that we convey
    Is an act with consequences

    These words actually terrify me, “No, no, I don’t want to return, Please let me stay here, don’t make me go back” I want to be in the embrace of God’s love after I die, the thought of having to come back shakes me to the core but God puts his servants to work and I trust Him.

    One more random note. A document only translated into English in 2012 is “Revealation of the Maji” – It’s about the “three wise men” who visited Jesus as a child and what was revealed to them. They were most likely Hindus or some related faith.

    Research, Seek, Seek more, Pray, Meditate, Form your own conclusions.

    My Love to you all,
    Doug

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  2. gniotek says:

    Very good article. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    http://www.bioo.org/

    Like

  3. Jon Nordby says:

    Cry for the Moon by Epica is actually about the abuse of children by catholic priests, a topic that figured heavily in the media during the time the song was written. It is part of a series of songs about the dangers of organized religion.

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    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thanks Jon for that note. But I don’t think it negates my general reading of how it speaks against injustice and lies.
      Jesus, as I noted above, was against the abuses of organized religion too when he attacked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the religious authorities of his day.

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    • The author’s point was that this song reflected on Jesus’s words about the hypocrites. Since the abuse of the Roman Catholic Priests essentially makes them hypocrites, then it still is technically reflecting on what the author found in the song. Epica is such an awesome band in areas such as this. I like their song Safegard to Paradise about the suicide bombers.

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  4. 80smetalman says:

    Thank you, this is what I have been trying to say for a long time. Heavy metal lyrics do not encourage people to worship the devil or go on killing sprees. I can listen to the Chritsian metal of Stryper and then listen to Grim Reaper and enjoy both of their music. If you would like to read more about the history of heavy metal in the 1980s, I can recommend the book “Rock And Roll Children” by Michael D. LeFevre

    Like

    • Shiao Chong says:

      Thanks and I think folks will appreciate the book recommendation as well.

      I hope Van Sloten’s book and this post will help Christians to be less knee-jerk or reactive and more discerning in engaging culture.

      Like

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