Thursday, April 21, 2011

Apocalypse Now: Sufjan's "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."

I just ran across a video for Sufjan Stevens' "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and I think it is a good example of how contemporary art (and perhaps preaching) can alert us to the tragic trajectory of sin and enmity by way of a dynamic paraphrase rather than a literal translation. The song is beautifully melancholy but when you pay attention to the lyrics and see the video it brings home (subtly and tastefully but all the more powerfully) the dark story that it depicts. It is a contemporary hell rather than apocalyptic imagery, but it has the potential to evoke awareness of what separateness from the life of God really amounts to. Perhaps for those with ears to hear it also amplifies our holy fear of the One who could just let us have it.

25 victims identified. 8 unidentified.
Found in the crawlspace beneath his home.
The last line of the wikipedia article on him says: "Examination of Gacy's brain after his execution revealed no abnormalities."

Having heard the song but not contemplated the lyrics, I wondered about Sufjan's tentative gasps of breath at the end. Now my voice is stuck in my throat too.

On one hand the imprecatory Psalms come right into focus with stories like this. It is unimaginable to me how the God who reconciles the world to himself in Christ could give us heaven on earth without also bringing justice with him. The biblical images assure me that God is more upset by injustice and evil than I am, and give me unimaginable pictures of the end of evil. How it all works out exactly is beyond my imagination and abilities to postulate (thank God), but I recognize that His judgement is good, am glad that there is justice rather than everlasting tolerance, and trust Him with it.

On the other hand, I also recognize my complicity with the broken conditions of the world and the different ways that evil drags on my own heart. And whilst this fills me with the fear of God I am also gratefully reminded of the Son of God's words to the penitent people thrown desperately at his feet. He said "do not be afraid," told them to get up, and sent them into the world as ministers of His reconciliation. Perfect love drives out fear and mercy triumphs over judgment, we are told -- though all around the world may crumble. Into this world we are sent to live.

We can paint our stark pictures of reality, and this is probably all the more necessary when we are bombarded daily with the self-soothing comforts of the globally advantaged. However: Ours is not a spirit of fear, but of love, and this is the love for which all creation groans. Our motive is not guilt, but grace; not fear, but love; not hellfire, but kingdom come. Fear and guilt just can't sustain the kind of cross-bearing self-sacrificing love that the gospel's trajectory of social justice requires, let alone the hope it holds out.

1 comment:

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

Thanks, Jon.