Guilt is real. As sinners we are objectively guilty before our holy God. That is, we are guilty because God’s laws say so. He gives us the standard of perfection, the rules to be followed, and we rebel against Him. This makes us guilty whether we feel guilty or not. As much as we seek to avoid or downplay this objective truth, it is just the reality. Guilt, our guilt, is real. And we know it. Deep down in our guts, we know it. We feel it. No matter how many coping mechanisms we use (be they drugs, alcohol, sex, therapy), and no matter how much we are told that this guilt is merely a feeling imposed upon us by our cultural context, that sense of guilt just won’t go away. This is because none of these mechanisms can take the reality of our guilt away. Our feelings of guilt come from the reality that we are guilty. So, how can we cope?
It seems to me that this is the question that the British rock band, Florence + the Machine, is battling with on their album Ceremonials. Throughout this musically stunning album, Florence Welch wrestles with her past demons (Only If For a Night; Shake It Out; No Light, No Light), bouts of depression (Breaking Down), and hopelessness in this life (Never Let Me Go; Leaving this Body). Past sins and poor choices seem to haunt Welch’s lyrics. In No Light, No Light she wonders if her sins will wreck her relationships:
Would you leave me if I told you what I’ve done.
Would you leave me if I told you what I’ve become.
Using very spiritual language to describe her situations, she is convinced that there is no hope for her when she says:
There’s no salvation for me now
No space among the clouds
And I’ve seen that I’m heading down
But that’s alright.
She desperately wants to escape her past, and death seems to be her only hope as she sings in Leave My Body:
I’m gonna leave my body
Moving up to higher ground
I’m gonna lose my mind
History keeps pulling me down.
Sadly, she almost seems to romanticize suicide in “Never Let Me Go” when she offers the reflections of one drowning in the ocean:
And the arms of the ocean are carrying me
And all this devotion was rushing out of me
And the crashes are heaven, for a sinner like me
The arms of the ocean deliver me.
In Shake It Out Welch warns that:
It is hard to dance with the devil on your back
So shake him off.
The devil, after all, is the one who keeps our guilt ever before our eyes. He is the one who wants to see us die in our guilt. He is the one who won’t let us forget the past. How are we to take our guilt and the devil and shake them off?
Each one of these songs are musically beautiful and emotionally captivating. The lyrics honestly wrestle with past sins and guilt. At the same time, they give one pause to really consider the heartache and pain we deal with because of our past. How are we to deal with the reality of guilt? Is death really the only option? Welch seems to sing that death is the only way to find release.
But what does God have to say to all of this? How is the One whose Law holds us guilty actually going to deal with our guilt? Ironically, the way God deals with our guilt and our sin and our past is also through death. Just not ours. At least, not initially. God deals with our guilt by doing the one thing we cannot do, He takes it away from us. We can’t just leave our sin behind and we can’t just shake off our guilt. They are too much a part of our sinful a nature and the devil won’t leave us alone. So God takes it away from us. The One before whom we are ultimately guilty has not counted our sins against us. He has not held us responsible. How is this even possible? God put on flesh and held himself responsible. Our guilt has been placed on Him. God in Christ took our sin and held himself responsible for it. He bled and died on a cross so that our Father no longer holds us guilty. Though we may still feel guilt in a subjective sense, God no longer holds you or me guilty in an objective sense. He has given that guilt to Christ. This shakes the devil from our backs, even crushes his head! The death of Christ is the answer to our guilt!
Interestingly, the theme of water is prevalent on this album. How appropriate, as it is with water that God unites us to Christ crucified and resurrected. We die with Him when we are baptized…and raises us to a new life. The death of Christ removes our guilt. The water and the word give us life and salvation! This baptismal death opens the door to a new life!
Musically marvelous and spiritually challenging, this album is a great springboard for conversations about Christ with your friends.
-Only If for a Night
-Shake It Out
-Never Let Me Go