Diagnosis by Dylan, Treatment via Tripp

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan turned 70 on May 24th of this year, and I quickly became intrigued by the number of people who brought this fact up in the course of casual conversation. “Man, that’s really something…that Dylan just hit 70,” and similar comments were universally spoken with the weight of personal consequence, i.e. an unspoken understanding that Dylan’s landmark birthday had deep repercussions for them as individuals. If nothing else, these conversations ultimately caused me to spend some more time listening to Blood on the Tracks and The Essential Bob Dylan compilation, and for that change-up in my truck’s CD player, I am grateful.

There is, obviously, much that could be written in this space regarding Dylan’s very public conversion to Christianity in early 1979 and the resulting album, Slow Train Coming, which featured the Grammy-winning single Gotta Serve Somebody. While Dylan actively resisted the label “born again” and his personal faith subsequently has become a matter of much speculation since at least the mid-1980s, one of the things I can really appreciate about Dylan is his statement that he finds his ultimate meaning in music: “The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”

Yes! I can certainly relate to that statement, though I obviously do not accept it as ultimate truth. As a Christian, I get my primary lexicon from the Word of God, the Bible, though I will admit that there are times when the words, faithfully delivered in a sermon, somehow fail to break through the hardness of my heart…whereas a powerful performance of the song “Jesus Messiah” by Chris Tomlin will absolutely shatter my composure a mere five minutes later.

How about another example? For a few years now, I have been wrestling with the reformed doctrine of Total Depravity, perhaps more politely termed “pervasive depravity” by Christian theologian and author Anthony Hoekema. No, I’m not going to make an argument for this particular point of the reformed faith. Instead, I just want to convey how much I sympathize with those who struggle to look at God’s creation, the “glorious ruin” that is mankind, and feel reluctantly compelled to nod the head in agreement to the idea that everything, absolutely everything in this world is soaked in sin and seriously messed up. Worse, things are so messed up that we do not even have the ability – or desire – to see just how deeply messed up everything is! And then Dylan catches me off-guard, and somehow ties several strands of thinking together with this simple little ditty, taken from his 26th studio album, Oh Mercy, produced by Daniel Lanois and released in Sept. of 1989:

Everything Is Broken
Bob Dylan

Broken lines, broken strings.
Broken threads, broken springs.
Broken idols, broken heads.
People sleeping in broken beds.
Ain’t no use jiving.
Ain’t no use joking.
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles, broken plates.
Broken switches, broken gates.
Broken dishes, broken parts.
Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words, never meant to be spoken.
Everything is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around,
something else just hit the ground.
Broken cutters, broken saws.
Broken buckles, broken laws.
Broken bodies, broken bones.
Broken voices on broken phones.
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’.
Everything is broken.

Every time you leave and go off someplace,
things fall to pieces in my face.
Broken hands, on broken ploughs.
Broken treaties, broken vows.
Broken pipes, broken tools.
People bending broken rules.
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking.
Everything is broken.

Every now and then, you come up against one of those moments when the limitations of language become all too apparent. Try as I might, I doubt that I could find the words to meaningfully describe how this song just sort of crawled into my brain and tied so many seemingly-contradictory thoughts together into a more unified, cohesive picture. All I can say is that I believe that God’s Spirit used the words – and delivery – of a deceptively-simple song to help me better see the truth in my own brokenness, along with an enhanced perspective on the quiet desperation of several people I know that are well aware of their own brokenness, want to change, and yet feel powerless to do so. “Well, yes…of course they are powerless! Doesn’t God’s Word tell us that over and over again?” (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-18)

So while I am very busy negotiating the finer points of Christian theology by listening to Bob Dylan, my wife Shelly is jumping out of the starting blocks by reading (and re-reading) Broken-Down House by Paul David Tripp. That particular book, of course, has a lot to say in answer to Dylan, who basically has left us hanging with, “OK, the world and everything in it is broken…now what?” Where Dylan offers a concise, catchy affirmation that we are all seriously messed up, Tripp’s thoroughly-biblical worldview is not content to leave us swinging on the tightrope of hopelessness:

The world you live in is a lot like a broken-down house. Every single room has been dirtied and damaged by sin. Not one part of it shines with anything like the pure glory that was so evident when it was first made. Sin has left this world in a sorry condition – you see it everywhere you look.

The brokenness around you affects you in different ways at different times. Sometimes you have to deal with personal hurt. Sometimes you grow angry that things do not function as they were designed to. Sometimes you are overwhelmed with feeling sad or lost in the face of this world’s pitiful condition. Sometimes you get tired of the effort it takes to live in a broken-down house, and you just want to quit. At every point and every moment, your life is messier and more complicated than it really ought to be because everything is so much more difficult in such a terribly broken world.

This book proposes that you have been created and called by God for more than survival. You have been created and called to care for more than just yourself. You have been chosen to be engaged in a process – to care about, work for, and to embrace the promise and possibility of a restoration lifestyle.

God cares, and he calls you to care. God is not satisfied with the state of this house, and he calls us to share in his holy dissatisfaction. In our hearts, he wants dissatisfaction and hope to kiss. He wants us, every day that we live, to embrace the gospel promise of a world made new. He wants our lives to be shaped by uncompromising honesty and undiminished hope. He wants us to face how bad things really are, not as survivalists, but as restorers.

He wants us to believe that because of what he has done, there is hope for new beginnings and fresh starts. (Pages 17;20)

Dylan tells us that everything in this world is broken, and Tripp agrees…but suggests that honestly recognizing the condition of the world around us – as well as the condition of our own hearts – is only the beginning. After accurately assessing who we are (utterly broken, and incapable of healing ourselves) and where we are (living in the midst of broken people, broken systems and broken ideologies), our eyes should seek out the only One Who can lead us in how to live despite these realities, and Who walks alongside us through those realities, giving us the power, wisdom and discernment we need to live redemptively. And that is the call: God does not call us to be saved, only to give us the goal of “surviving” the rest of our days here on earth until we meet Him, white-knuckling our way unto eternal salvation. Instead, He calls us to join Him in working toward the redemption of all creation…right here, right now.

Too often, I think, North American Christians claim Christ, attend church faithfully on Sundays, but continue to go about their lives the rest of the week as if their time, talent and resources belong to them to do with as they wish. But when God calls you, He doesn’t just call you to eternity with Him – although that is our great hope and something we should celebrate every day! – but He also calls us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to His kingdom work. Our dissatisfied Redeemer wants us to join Him in being dissatisfied with the way things are, and to work to redeem the brokenness right here in the broken-down house where we live.

So yes, Dylan is surely right. Everything around you is broken. Surely you see that, and surely you are not satisfied with all of the brokenness you see. If you claim Christ as your Savior, though, I guess I would suggest that you ask yourself: “What, if anything, is God calling me to do about this? What does Christ’s resurrection and the inbreaking of His Kingdom into history have to do with this particular piece of brokenness, mercifully called to my attention?”

Revelation 21:1-5a (ESV, emphasis mine)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

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