I’ve been pondering over this song since hearing it at Mobilise East on Sunday. Originally written by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and covered by Cash in the last year of his life, the song seems to span generations – clearly both artists could identify with the themes Reznor wrote about – regret, loss, despair, the apparent futility of life, and the way that, with all the best intentions in the world, we let down those we love and care about. It’s bleak stuff – and yet part of me really respects that. And as I’ve been thinking about how I deal with these realities, I’ve been struck by how shallow I can be. Our culture doesn’t exactly foster genuine openness and honesty, and sadly that’s too often the case amongst Christians as well – I am guilty of putting on a mask and pretending things are OK, when really I’m not, and I’m equally guilty of wanting others to do the same, because I don’t know how to handle it when they’re honest.
But how tragic is that? Out of all the people in the world, followers of Jesus should be ready to face up to the reality that this song points to – we are broken, sinful, weak and helpless people. That should not be a surprise to us! Isn’t that what Jesus shows us? Isn’t it a basic part of being a Christian – to know, see and feel the weight of that hopelessness at some point in our lives, to know that without Jesus, we’re lost, hopeless? In some ways, ‘full of broken thoughts I cannot repair’ doesn’t go far enough…No wonder Reznor’s lyrics leave us with no hope or cosy resolution – without Jesus, what do we have? Empires of dirt that we build for ourselves in the vain hope that they might mean something, or make our existence significant. If that’s the best solution we have, then it would make sense to hide our pain and worry away – what would be the use of sharing it? What would be the use of trawling through it and facing it in all it’s horror and ugliness? Perhaps some temporary relief if we were to find that others share the same despair too, but that is a fleeting comfort – after all, everyone we know goes away in the end.
Before you start to despair, however, let me remind you, and myself, that Jesus does offer us a better way. Knowing the very worst of what we’re like, having faced all our sin and brokenness himself, in his very body, hanging on a tree, Jesus offers us himself. There is no hope in us – we can’t get better on our own. But wonderfully, Jesus stands us in his place – he deals gently with our self-inflicted wounds, binds us up and presents us before the Father wearing his own Son-ly clothes. So when we’re feeling broken, we don’t have to be afraid of facing up to that, and we don’t have to be ashamed of admitting it. A sick person needs a doctor – to pretend otherwise is dangerous and unwise.
I wonder what my conversations would look like if I was more aware of this? How would my friendships grow and develop differently? How would I face challenges and failures differently, and what difference should this make to how I love my church family?