In truth, I really don’t know whether God exists or not. For a variety of reasons, I have an operational assumption that He does, but the more I really try to pin it down, the more agnostic I become. A lot of agnostics and atheists say that they wish that they were religious, but often do so in a tone dripping with condescension: “I wish I could be such a simpleton as to believe in something that obviously gives your simple little mind happiness.” But it’s true, for me, that I wish that I were more religious than I am. Not so much because it would make things simpler to have all the answers, but because the times when a sort of semblance of faith has touched my life, it has helped me tremendously.
One of the things that I really appreciate about country music is the way that it is able to weave religion and God into its content in a way that is accessible to people like me. Songs purely about loving God or praising Him are about as interesting to me as songs about being soooo in love with some chick or some dude. It has to be done really well to avoid being insufferably dull. So it becomes one of those things where artists that have to write for people that don’t experience God in quite the same way that they do have to go the extra mile in making a song original, interesting, or relatable.
Religious songs in country music are hit and miss, but some of them, when they hit, had a pretty profound effect on me. One such artist made a point of having at least one religious song on each CD that he put out there. In between songs about getting drunk and misbehaving, there would be some of the most interesting songs that were sort of a follow-up for the toll that it is taking not just on his life, but on his soul. The first such song uses great imagery of a bible sitting on his dresser and a woman’s clothes tossed around his floor and between the stained glass on a chapel and neon signs in bars.
In the outset of a bootleg version of the song, he describes it as such: “It’s about being a sinner. And knowin’ it.” That’s also a theme of his follow-up to it, which is about his inability to figure out why, exactly, God would love him.
I mention those songs even though there are others requesting that God give the singer the strength to go on, requesting that Satan kiss the singer’s posterior, or the Devil being challenged to some competition involving classic automobiles. But it’s the songs about being a sinner and knowing it that I think of most because, at that point in my life, that was a message that resonated with me greatly.
When I was listening to these songs, I was doing things that I was not proud of. I was doing things that I simply did not consider to be me, yet there I was doing them. The notion of there being a God that loves me anyway was really appealing on that basis. Not because it allowed me to screw up as much as I wanted, but rather because it challenged me to be worthy of that love.
And in some ways it could be said that it was not even about God at all. It was about having parents that loved me, friends that prayed for me, and so on. It was about having been given all of this, screwing it up, and yet having a sense that things did not have to be this way and that I was not beyond redemption.
It would have been really easy for me to leave it at that. But I didn’t.
Instead, there were moments when I really, truly felt something like what I’m told God’s presence feels like. Like He was there. It was enough to get me going to church again and trying to rap my head around the concept of God as more than just a concept and of Jesus and Jesus’ message of being more than just words in a book.
But, as is often the case when I try to think about God logically, when I would look for Him, He wouldn’t be there. It was light a shadow or a phantom in the corner of my eye. I turn my eyes and suddenly He was gone. Only to creep back in when I was thinking not of Him, but of the subjects that seemed to pique His interest in me.
Maybe it was just an imaginary physical manifestation of the desire on my part to be a better person. But it got me through some pretty hard times when it seemed that very little in my life was going right in regards to what I was doing but also (perhaps mostly) in regards to what was going on around me. And His intrusion wasn’t even particularly welcome. My preferred relationship with God is less intimate and in times when I feel like I have a better handle on things. I don’t like being that guy who only comes to God (or wants God to come to him) when he wants something.
But it was what it was, or wasn’t what it wasn’t, depending. Unwelcome, but ultimately helpful. A helpful delusion, or a momentary glimpse of and connection with a typically elusive deity. The more I try to look at it, the less tangible it all becomes. Not unlike the musical distinction between the off-putting songs trying to convince me to believe in God and the songs in which God is part of a backdrop of a grander narrative.
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