Tokyo Olympics Imagine the wrong song
I enjoy the Olympics. I’m not one of these anti-sport types or anti-cultural wowsers. There’s no doubt that my family and I will be watching the Aussies over the next couple of weeks. We expect to see some amazing athleticism and competition, and we’ll be cheering on as proud Aussies. There are plenty of non-Aussies that I’m keen to see compete as well. And ‘yay’ to Tokyo! I’m happy for the people of Tokyo. Despite the trauma and uncertainty of the past 18 months, the games have begun; well done!
There was much to enjoy and amaze in what was a scaled-down opening ceremony. The cauldron is spectacular. And yes, mask-wearing athletes waving to a near-empty stadium is kind of weird but welcome to 2021. I also assumed there would be some element at the Games that’ll make us cringe. On this occasion, the irksome bit was in fact the contribution made by Australia’s very own Keith Urban. Or rather, Urban shared the honours with a Legend named John and two other singers who each represented a different continent.
Together they performed a virtual rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. Really? Yep. We couldn’t think of something more imaginative to captivate the audience? Even a few lines from Puccini would have given us a better dose of goosebumps than Lennon’s dreary Imagine. Despite Lennon’s best efforts to produce a mediocre song, Imagine has become something of a global anthem for times of trouble and bizarrely even at Christmas time.
But let’s stop for a moment and use our brains. Think about the lyrics. Forget about the ho-hum melodic line. Leave aside the earnest yodeling of Keith Urban, the swaying arms of a choir and the army of drones circling above to create a unified world. Truth ain’t measured by a spectacularly scripted show!
Imagine is hardly good news. It’s a pop song designed to imagine life without ultimate meaning and hope. Despite its claim, it doesn’t bring people together for it erases any story that’s bigger than ourselves and strong enough to heal the unreconcilable. It’s the perfect anthem for our neighbourhood nihilists, not for a hurting world.
At a time when the world in the thralls of a pandemic, facing enormous financial debt, geopolitical threats of warlike imminence, and the fracturing of western civilisation, Imagine is not the song we need to hear. What does this imaginary song offer us?
Imagine there is no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal toward which our lives are headed.
In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality.
Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance.
Imagine if our lives were reduced to the potluck outcome of billions of years of impersonal atoms and molecules running around hitting and missing, making and destroying.
Imagine a world where the reality of conscience and moral choice has no grounding in a purpose beyond that of group survival in the evolutionary race to the top.
Imagine human affections are ultimately an illusion, a cruel joke orchestrated by the impersonal rules of physics.
Imagine all the people living for today, for tomorrow, is the end.
Imagine’s meaning isn’t so great, is it?
In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality. Times of economic uncertainty can drive people to the kinds of selfish and greedy hoarding of supplies that we have been witnessing. A health crisis can lead to further fragmentation in societies. Indeed, the longer this crisis continues the more likely we are going to witness the breaking of social cohesion. And yet as these economic, social and health pressures tighten, it is all the more necessary for people to hear news of hope.
There is little consolation to a gravely ill person that not only is death imminent, but that it is ultimately meaningless. This atheistic ethic doesn’t do much to help grieving families who have just witnessed a loved one being ripped from their lives. To quote one friend, Imagine is “tone deaf”.
We want there to be a heaven, a better world with a better life. We want the cessation of sorrow and suffering, but Imagine cannot offer any such promise.
At the same time, hell is also a necessity, for we do not want to live in a world where evil wins or where injustice prevails. While we should be thankful for our judicial system, it is not full proof and many terrible deeds are never prosecuted. People need to know that in death the wicked do not escape justice. Imagining there is no hell would be a form of hell its self.
John Lennon’s song collapses in on its own irrationality. He imagines “living life in peace”, and there being no “greed or hunger”, but such talk demands a form and purpose; atheism and naturalism cannot provide such a definition.
The COVID-19 crisis is a voracious reminder of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of building society on credit. Hedonism is vanity. Pushing against greed and social disharmony suggests meaning, but meaning is disqualified in a God absent universe. As Solomon, the wise wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes,
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
Nietzsche was right, at least as far his logic is concerned, that “the masses blink and say ‘We are all equal – Man is but man, before God – we are equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” A contemporary of Nietzsche, Anatole France retorted without regret,
“It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.”
What if there is heaven and hell? What if God exists?
Everything must change. What we think and say has greater import. How we live and how we treat others has far more consequence.
What if the God who exists is the God of the Bible: who is Sovereign, and altogether righteous and loving, just and kind?
What if Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, the One who as John testifies,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
These words are far more sustainable and substantial than the sentiment of living in a world without Divine structure. A Biblical view of the world both assesses its beauty and its horror, the worth and the uncertainty. These Scriptures bring us to the most astonishing words, ones that counter John Lennon’s pipe dream with concrete hope,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Murray Campbell is lead pastor of Mentone Baptist in the self-proclaimed sporting capital of the world, Melbourne.