RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Do you remember what it’s like to walk in darkness without Christ?
Someone asked that question at a recent spiritual retreat for International Mission Board staff members. It’s been a long time, but I remember darkness -– vividly. Being so filled with hatred there’s no room for love. Feeling so alone you can’t find a friend, even when they’re all around you. Trying to do right and failing miserably. Wanting to die, but being too afraid of what comes after death to find out.
I’ve been down and discouraged as a Christian believer, too, but never that far down. I have a bright hope that lights the dark path, a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, a peace that passes understanding.
But I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be hopeless, because that’s the way most people in this world live. They search for light, but see only darkness. They yearn for hope, but don’t feel it. They sense deep down that God cares, but can’t find Him.
All they know is the struggle to get through today — and dread about the future.
Bob Dylan wrote about darkness with prophetic power long before his openly Christian songs of the 1970s and ’80s. Dylan is one of those musicians people tend to love or hate. To some, he’s an over-the-hill, whiny-voiced folk singer who wrote protest songs in the ’60s. To others (including me), he’s a poet whose words speak to generations. Various activists have tried hard over the years to co-opt Dylan for their political agendas, but they’ve never succeeded in pigeonholing him. He has always sought larger truths.
Dylan’s early song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is as chilling a vision of evil and impending judgment as anything out of Dante’s “Inferno”:
“Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
“Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
“I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
“I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’,
“I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’ …
“I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
“I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children …
“And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall….”
If that’s not a picture of a world hurtling toward hell, I don’t know what is.
Dylan wrote the song during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came within an eyelash of nuclear war. If you were around and aware at the time, you remember those days of terror. Was the world about to end?
“‘Hard Rain’ is a desperate kind of song,” Dylan later said. “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs, so I put all I could into this one.”
“Hard Rain” is about more than war, however. It’s about Judgment Day coming -– and no one paying attention:
“I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’,
“Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world,
“Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’,
“Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’,
“Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’ …
“And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall….”
By God’s grace we survived the Cold War –- and all the other horrors of the last century. We’re into a new century, and the balance of nuclear terror has given way to the age of terrorism. Life goes on. But Judgment Day is 44 years closer than it was when Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” The world is still lost and careening toward eternal darkness.
Do you remember what it’s like to be lost? Then get out there and tell the world what it’s like to be found by Jesus Christ -– while there’s still time. If you need a missionary call, here’s one from Dylan that’s worthy of any Baptist pulpit:
“Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
“Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
“I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’,
“I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
“Where the people are many and their hands are all empty …
“Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
“Where black is the color, where none is the number,
“And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
“And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it …
“It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”
Amen, Brother Bob.