To Hell and Back
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
Sometimes, Christian song writers write songs that are so generic that they can be played on public radio. For example, a song can speak so generically about love that the song could be about a relationship between God and people or merely a human relationship.
Recently I heard a song on the radio from Maren Morris, named "To Hell and Back." The title of this song caught my attention. The song seems to have some spiritual themes such as heaven, hell, and salvation. Yet the song is evidently directed at a secular public. I was intrigued by the fact that a secular song can use scriptural themes, can become very popular, and can have it completely wrong.
THE SONG GOES…
Smoke was coming off my jacket, and you didn't seem to mind.
I left a long trail of ashes and you said, "I like your style."
Now heartbreak ain't a competition but I took it in a landslide.
The skeletons I wanted to bury, you liked out in the light
You didn't save me.
You didn't think I needed saving.
You didn't change me. You didn't think I needed changing.
My wings are frayed and what's left of my halo's black.
Lucky for me your kind of heaven's been to hell and back.
I wonder how you treasure what anyone would call a flaw.
You say a pearl without the pressure wouldn't be a pearl at all.
When my demons come a-calling you don't even bat an eye.
I don't scare you and I guess that's why.
You didn't save me.
THE MEANING OF THE SONG
The song speaks of someone who is wounded from a troubled past and craves a validation and acceptance from the person she loves. She loves how she can be herself and that her loved one does not require her change. In fact, he seems to like her in the mess she is.
I understand the singer on a human level. Validation and acceptance feel great in times of brokenness, hurt, and in times in which life and suffering seem senseless. To have someone say that we can be ourselves and that we are loved the way we are simply feels good. However, more and more do I learn in life that what feels good has nothing to do with what is good.
What if this song, together with its scriptural themes, would be rewritten to reflect a relationship between God and people? How much of this song would have to be rewritten to be biblical? Half the song would have to change. Half the song can remain the way it is.
What the singer has right is that our skeletons, our secret sins, our failures, Jesus wants out into his light. She is right that "lucky for us," Jesus has gone to hell and back, and because he conquered Satan, when our demons "come-a-calling," he does not "bat an eye." She is very right about this. What the singer has very wrong is that our past style is loved. The singer wrongly states that we do not need to be saved or changed. God wants to save us. God wants to change us. God loves us the way we are but does not accept us to stay that way. God wants our holiness. She is dangerously wrong about God's acceptance of the state we are in.
BETWEEN HUMAN REST AND GODLY FORCE
People desire acceptance and validation without having to change. Many people want to be a better person but do not want to suffer the hardship that will get them there. For example, people pray for humility but they just want to wake up humble. People do not want the excruciating brokenness that kills their pride. Jesus requires a change of us that does not count the cost but requires a surrendering in which we say (and mean!): "take my life and let it be, consecrated God to thee." I mean it. We have got to mean it!
People desire their sins to be hidden so that there will be no shame. Jesus requires sins to be drawn into his light, to be confessed, and to be mortified. The shame of exposure should never be greater than the shame about the sin we have committed. Neither is the freedom of hiding our sins greater than the freedom of confessing them and being forgiven.
When you struggle with changing and are scared of mortification, remember that validation without change is simply a standstill in which our wounded soul will bleed to death. Validation with change is a painful operation that radically eradicates the source of death and leads to life.
Sanctification (change) is the most painful but the most rewarding process of the human life.