By A.L. Sapinski –
At least once in your life, you’ve probably turned on your radio and heard a song called “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum, or Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” (possibly much more than once, to the point you had to change the radio station). Religious mainstream music is nothing new to the world. Most songs that praise the name of Jesus or offer Judeo-Christian undertones are easy to spot, especially in the realm of mainstream music. But sometimes, when we’re listening to the radio, we hear a beat we like, and surprisingly, one or two lesser known hymns slip past us. Below is a list of songs that you might not have known were Christian or otherwise monotheistically-themed (or at least have lyrics that offer some spiritual perception).
“Papautai” by Stromae
Tell me where it’s from/ Finally I’d be where I want/ Mother says when we search good/ We’ll be done looking forever/ She says he is never very far/ He goes to work every day/ Mother says working is good/ Better than being in bad company isn’t it?/ Where are you, papa?
What does this song mean? If you look at the outer layer – even that which the artist himself is trying to portray, the lyrics are directed toward Stromae’s father, who died in the Rwanda genocide twenty years ago. The song represents the pain of a child who longs to meet and truly know the father he’d never met.
On a deeper level, one could consider the relationship that people around the world crave with God. To analyze the lyrics listed above, where God is, is where those seeking him would finally want to be and once we find him we will be done looking forever because he will remain in us eternally. And even still he’s never far away and is working every day, whether or not we can see him doing so. The lyrics specifically mentioned above really bring out empathy toward the desperation of those who feel like they don’t understand who he is but are crying for the chance to know him.
“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
God only knows what I’d be without you/ If you should ever leave me/ Though life would still go on believe me/ The world could show nothing to me/ So what good would living do me
“God Only Knows” is best known for the fact that it was a mainstream song with God’s name in title and beginning lyric. When song writer Brian Wilson’s wife, Marilyn, first heard him perform it for her on a piano, long before its release she knew he was taking a risk. “Oh God,” she thought, “he’s talking about God in a record.” As for the radio, it hadn’t been done before. For the Beach Boys and music history, the launch of this song would be ground breaking.
According to partner song writer, Tony Asher, the song is told from the point of view of a man or woman contemplating life after death to his or her lover. “I’ll love you till the sun burns out, then I’m gone, ‘ergo ‘I’m gonna love you forever,’” the artist explained. Wilson explained that the mood of the song is like being blind, ‘but in being blind, you can see more.’ “You close your eyes; you’re able to see a place or something that’s happening,” he said.
Jim DeRogatis had stated that the spiritual invocations in “God Only Knows” expresses non-specific sentiments which could be addressed to any higher force and that the song is more of a sensitive meditation about moving forward in the face of a loss, than an actual prayer. While growing up Wilson’s household was never particularly religious, but he and his brother Carl do have spiritual beliefs of a sort, stating “We believe in God as a kind of universal consciousness. God is love. God is you. God is me. God is everything right here in this room. It’s a spiritual concept which inspires a great deal of our music.”
From an outsider’s perspective of the song, and there’s a lot of truth that resonates from the lyrics posted above. If God ever left us, life might go on for us physically for some time, but would anything have any real value without him? In truth, the world really could show nothing to us.
“The Cave” by Mumford and Sons
Some come out of your cave walking on your hands/ And see the world hanging upside down/ You can understand dependence/ When you know the maker’s land.
Marcus Mumford’s parents are leaders of the evangelical Vineyard Church in England, which he himself is a member of to this day. The words in “The Cave” are straight forward, leaving no mystery as to whether or not the song is actually referring to God; most other Mumford and Sons tracks express the same spiritual value. Marcus reflects his beliefs quite strongly in his lyrics and this song is a great example.
Specifically, much of the words in “The Cave” are referring to the trials of St. Francis of Assisi, as recorded in the biography written by G.K. Chesterton. Here, Chesterton details Francis’ journey through poverty and his goal of finding happiness through God. Said to be converted after spending time in a cell, or cavern, St. Francis emerged from his isolation with a new perspective on the world; he saw things completely differently, as if it were upside down. Hence: “So come out of your cave walking on your hands and see the world hanging upside down. You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land.”
So tie me to a post and block my ears/ I can see widows and orphans through my tears/ I know my call despite my faults/ And despite my growing fears.
From a basic perspective, “Cave” is a song calling for people to look past the distractions of the world in order to see the bigger picture- the land as the ‘maker’ made it. And what’s the best way for us to understand the world as the maker made it? Through the words God gave in the bible. Mumford commonly refers to biblical verses and terms, showing that he himself takes the words of scripture with high regard. Even “widows and orphans,” found in the middle of the aforementioned song, are significant biblical terms often paired together in the Bible, as seen in Psalms 68:5 and James 1:27.
Here are some verses from other Mumford and Sons hits that really offer inspiration on faith and importance of the bible:
“Sigh No More”
Serve God, love me and mend / This is not the end / Lived unbruised, we are friends / And I’m sorry / I’m sorry.
“Below My Feet”
And I was still but I was under your spell / When I was told by Jesus all was well / So all must be well.
“Whispers in the Dark”
Whispers in the dark / Steal a kiss and you’ll break your heart / Pick up your clothes and curl your toes / Learn your lesson, lead me home / Spare my sins for the ark / I was too slow to depart / I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud / I’d set out to serve the Lord.
“After Forever” by Black Sabbath
Have you ever thought about your soul – can it be saved? / Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead you just stay in your grave / Is God just a thought within your head or is He a part of you? / Is Christ just a name that you read in a book when you were at school? / When you think about death do you lose your breath or do you keep your cool? / Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – do you think he’s a fool? / Well, I have seen the truth / Yes, I have seen the light and I’ve changed my ways / And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely and scared at the end of your days / Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say / If they knew you believe in God above / They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love.
It’s ironic. When most people think of the band, Black Sabbath, they think Satan. Most people don’t stop to consider that Ozzy Osbourne actually praised God’s name in much of his songs, which are dedicated to overcoming Satan.
“After Forever” is pretty straight forward. Ozzy is challenging believers to stand in conviction of their faith, even in the face of persecution from friends and loved ones, for the only way to love is through God.
“Are You Gonna Go My Way?” by Lenny Kravitz
I was born long ago / I am the chosen, I’m the one / I have come to save the day / And I won’t leave until I’m done / So that’s why you’ve got to try / You got to breathe and have some fun / Though I’m not paid I play this game / And I won’t stop until I’m done / But what I really want to know is / Are you gonna go my way?
As a devout Christian, Lenny Kravitz has been writing about spiritual themes all throughout his career. He’s gone through years of celibacy as part of his faith walk and even has a giant tattoo of a cross inked across his back.
In “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Kravitz attempts to put himself in the shoes of Christ. The voice of the song represents Jesus at the time of the second coming, stating who he is and why he’s come. It’s hard for anyone to say what Christ’s second coming would be like before it happens, but in Kravitz’ interpretation, Jesus speaks plainly. He’s simply asking the listener if they’re going to follow him or not.
“God” by Tupac Shakur
When I was alone, and had nothing. I asked for a friend to help me bear the pain. No one came, except God. When I needed a breath to rise from my sleep. No one could help me except God. When all I saw was sadness, and I needed answers, no one heard me, except God. So when I’m asked who I give my unconditional love to? I look for no other name, except God.
This one isn’t a song, it’s a poem, but a worthy mention all the same. The philosophy of this legendary rapper is less than certain. Though ambiguous, interviews painted the idea that Tupac wasn’t keen on organized religion. Nevertheless, he still felt a need to write about and connect with God. Despite any animosity he had to churches, the artist couldn’t deny the presence of God throughout his life.