I’ve been putting a lot of miles on the car this year. It’s not unusual for me to spend 6 hours of my work day sitting in traffic, meandering through historic farmland, or cruising down the interstate. Many of these hours are on the phone, some listening to news or commentary, and some on the iPod: Simon & Garfunkel, Counting Crows, Coldplay, Tracy Chapman, Robert Randolph, Elton John, John Mayer, Michael Jackson, Joe Cocker, Bon Jovi… and, of course, the Beatles. John Lennon gave me pause just recently, as I listened once again to the lyrics of his “Imagine.”
More than a few times I have heard people describe “Imagine” as an unchristian or even anti-Christian song. The more I experience it, the more I disagree. It seems to me that what Lennon describes in his lyrics is something very near the heart of God. He does use the words “heaven” and “religion” in a manner that could lead one to believe that he is unsupportive or even opposed to Christian principles or teachings. In fact, I imagine that Lennon was opposed to much of what he was exposed to that waved the flag of Christianity; but that is different from being opposed to true Christianity.
In reality, what “Imagine” describes is actually a marvelous depiction of heaven: A place of peace, a place of harmony, a place free from death and pain, a place free from division and strife, a place of selflessness and family and commonality, a place free from hunger and greed. It is, in fact, ironic that the first words of the song are, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” as Lennon launches into what is actually a surprisingly evangelistic call for people to embrace the very nature of heaven: “You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us / And the world will be as one.”
Even as someone that many would describe as a “conservative Christian,” I do embrace Lennon’s call. I realize that there was much in his life that was inconsistent with biblical Christianity, just as there is in mine; and I am under no impression that the man considered himself a Christian. But perhaps, like Gandhi and many others, there was more Christianity in his worldview than he was even aware. I can stand with Lennon in the spirit of his words, “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today…” I can stand with him because I do not hear this as a desire to abdicate responsibility or a desire to debunk the afterlife. I hear this as a deep desire, couched in the song’s context, that fundamentals would not polarize us to the point of hatred. “Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too”—once again, the same.
Tragically, I don’t believe what Lennon imagined will ever come to pass in this world, just as I don’t believe what God Himself desires will ever come to pass. The Bible clearly expresses one of God’s heart desires: “…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Yet not everyone does repent. And it is this very thing—repentance—that could bring God’s vision, Lennon’s vision, to pass. Repentance would usher in peace, harmony, selflessness, family, commonality—in short, heaven. It’s interesting that “Imagine” envisions a world with no hell; because this, too, is the world that God envisioned.
No, the world will never be as John Lennon imagined. But there is a life that will look like this. And that is the place of Paradise restored, the place of wrong made Right. It is an authentic Reality offered to all men who respond to the Father’s call, one that awaits us in the afterlife: “‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new!’” (Revelation 21:3-5) “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
What a day, what an awesome day, that will be.
[Related Musings: “Santa Rocks!” (December 2007), another example of divine yearnings manifesting in secular culture.]