Forgive me now because I have been unfaithful
don’t ask me why, because I don’t know
So many times I tried, but was unable…
but this heart belongs to You alone
And now I’m in our secret place, alone in Your embrace
where all my wrongs have been erased
You have forgiven
All the promises and lies, all the times I compromised
All the times You were denied
You have forgiven
It looks something like a hymn, doesn’t it? It reads like a hymn; it’s a song to the glory of God, and its words are a celebration of the Lord’s all-embracing forgiveness. None of the lyrics of the whole song – this is just a part of it – are untrue or blasphemous; in fact the whole thing provides hope and encouragement for those who wonder if God can ever forgive them yet again. It rings with the joyous knowledge that Jesus will always forgive, even when there are no excuses, and that He is loving and merciful no matter what. If we’ll only confess and ask Him for forgiveness, He will forgive. And that is exactly what this song says.
Yet, if the song was actually played, not just the lyrics written, there are thousands of Christians all over the world who would protest that the song is an abomination to God. Why? Because it’s rock. Christian rock, yes; but all the same, it’s hard-hitting, drum-solo-abounding, electric-guitar-slamming rock. This particular song, Skillet’s “Forgiven”, has a particularly heavy feel to it and its writers sure didn’t hold back on the drums. And because of this, people everywhere – people who believe in God, mostly, and who stand up in church to sing His praises every Sunday – call it blasphemy.
I have never really been able to grasp why. I know that there are many rock artists out there who have a less-than-favourable reputation; in fact, rock in general has been cloaked in disrepute for years. But why should there be such a taboo on rock written for God’s glory? It’s a little like saying that because heathens invented calendars, all calendars are blasphemous. Isn’t it a good thing that some people are turning rock into an instrument to edify fellow Christians and praise our Lord?
To be honest, I’m not even a die-hard rock fan. I mostly listen to classical, pop and country (which drives some of my peers insane, but hey, nobody has a voice like Josh Groban), but if I like the lyrics and the singer’s voice, I’m just as happy listening to Skillet or Joe Niemand’s heavier albums as to a rendition of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Happier, in fact: some of the old hymns like “Amazing Grace”, originally so powerful, have become so old that people forget they’re even hymns. Unbelievers sing “Silent Night” at Christmas with the rest of us, because that’s what they do, not because they actually believe in the Virgin Mother and Child. Old hymns have become much the same.
But when a long-haired guy with tattoos walks up to the microphone, slams on his guitar and starts to sing about forgiveness or grace or redemption, you have to sit up. You have to take notice. Because this is a new song, and it’s loud and it’s in your face and you can’t just hide it away under traditions.
Perhaps that’s why rock is so detested by so many – especially the older generation. No, I’m not just saying this because I’m a teen who wants her own way. And yes, I know a lot of older people don’t like rock because it’s loud and noisy and it’s not to their taste. And that’s fine. If someone tells me to turn off that noise because it’s driving them nuts, I’ll do it. But don’t tell me to turn off that noise because it’s tainting my soul. That young Christian rock artist with the long hair might look like he just walked out of a bar fight, but (and there are exceptions to every rule) he is singing to God’s glory, and he probably means it a lot more passionately, and believes a lot more fervently, than the stiff-collared pillar of society mumbling through “Jerusalem” on Sunday morning.
In fact, the trouble is not so much that people think rock music is wrong, as that so many adults are terrified of what teenagers are going to do to themselves and society. They have good reason: teenagers have acted irresponsibly, criminally, carelessly, and heartlessly. Our generation is dying young and suffers from depression, eating disorders, and other mental issues like never before. Teenagers are in trouble; in some cases, teenagers are trouble.
Yes, teens are young and inexperienced and get into trouble. But there are some of us still out there who are responsible, who believe, and who aren’t going to be stupid and end up in jail somewhere. There are those of us who, like me, were raised well and have loving parents and have dedicated their lives to God. But our number is diminishing, because some adults don’t trust us. And I address this not to all adults, because I know many adults who treat us right – not the way we want to be treated, maybe, but the way we need to be treated – with enough freedom and enough guidance. I address this to the small amount of people who choose to handle us like we’re on a short fuse and about to blow up and destroy ourselves. Thanks be to God, very few of the adults I know are like this, least of all my own parents; but there are some out there, and I beg them to listen.
Yes, we are still teenagers. We are young and we are alive, and we still celebrate it. Yes, we know they just want what’s best for us, but we have to spread our wings sometime. We’re not afraid of adrenalin and adventure the way so many older people are. A lot of us celebrate it by going out and getting drunk and driving fast just for the thrill of it, or being stupid and reckless and taking inordinate risks, which is one reason why so many people die so young. But don’t turn us all into rebels just because we’re a bit noisier and a bit livelier and a bit more fiery than the rest of you. Let us have our rock, if its lyrics are acceptable to our God; let us have our parties, if we all stay responsible; let us try new things and gallop on young horses and ride rollercoasters, if the risk is not irresponsibly high; let us dance late into the night with the flashing lights and the loud music and the laughter, if we remain pure and free from sin. It is possible. We are young and we are alive. We have no right to inflict our noise and our liveliness on you if you don’t want it, but when we’re out of your way, not harming anyone, and staying out of trouble, don’t stop us from being young and alive. You were young too, once.
Yes, there are responsible teenagers out there. We can have fun without causing danger or trouble or sin. So guide us, discipline us when we need it, set limits, and be our leaders by example; but don’t stifle us, don’t try to crush the life out of us and turn us into grey stereotypes, cardboard cut-outs of society’s expectations. We are already a group of square pegs in a world of round holes, treated like children and expected to act like adults; we are already studying hard, working hard, struggling to break into the adult world of forms and licences and signatures. So let us escape, responsibly, into our loud music and our parties. Trust us just a little, and we will honour you.
God wants people to be alive and afire, not stumble colourlessly through life. Let us dance as the night grows older, knowing that our own youth will only last a moment. Let us celebrate being young and alive. We know about all the rebels out there, about all the teens that get into trouble, and we’re not them. I speak for all the responsible teenagers out there who want to breathe. Who want to be trusted.
We sing a new song to the God we love just as much as you do. “Sing unto Him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise” (Psalm 33:3). We will sing “Amazing Grace” with you on Sunday morning; we will kneel in our closets in silence and praise Him with our prayer every day of the week; but let us be free to praise Him in our own way. We are on fire, and ours is a generation of lively believers.
We know what’s right and wrong and we’re trying to do what’s right. We might not be doing it the way you would, and we might still be on a learning curve, but we’re on fire for our God and we want to get out there and grab life with both hands.
Please don’t try to stop us.