“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
(from John Lennon’s 1971 song, ‘Imagine’)
For years, John Lennon’s song Imagine has always been one of those songs that leaves me feeling unsettled whenever I hear it. There’s certainly no doubt that Imagine is melodically beautiful, artfully recorded and musically uplifting. Lennon’s voice is in its prime and the piece is sung with sensitivity and raw emotion. The words represent John’s (and Yoko’s) heartfelt desire to see a better world come about through unifying peace. (A poem by Yoko Ono initially inspired John’s lyrics for the 1971 recording.)
Imagine is over 40 years old now and we still hear it being ‘covered’ or played at memorials and peace rallies across the globe. It’s also somewhat odd that though Lennon recommended that we “imagine there’s no countries”, the song received renewed word-wide attention at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics – a celebration that inherently lauds national pride and diversity in the wake of intense competition.
That said, as a follower of Christ, I feel compelled to take issue with the overarching message of the song. A good portion of the lyrics of Imagine are emblematic of the atheistic or humanistic idea of what it would take to bring true peace to mankind. According to Lennon, peace can come at a price that includes, among other things, that of forsaking belief in God, belief in an afterlife, and even the passion to live or die for something truly important.
Blogger Paul Wilkinson pointed me to an article in Christianity Today authored by David Neff that noted the following:
“… a friend reminded me of comedian Steve Martin’s comic tune, “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” At the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Martin waved a single sheet of paper and told the audience, “This is the entire atheist hymnal, right here.” … “Martin is clever, but wrong. John Lennon wrote just such a tune in 1971. Lennon’s tune for “Imagine” is indeed inspiring. But Lennon’s text posits an existence with “nothing to live or die for.” With no countries, no possessions, no heaven or hell, no religion, Lennon promised, the world would live as one. Not likely. Perhaps Martin was right to ignore the song.”
Our pastor recently re-reviewed the lyrics of Imagine and made an interesting observation: “If you take out the first ‘verse’ of his song, he [Lennon] is actually describing heaven. The problem is that by ignoring the call of heaven (God’s Kingdom) and living for today, Heaven is only a dream never realized. The bitter irony of the song is that the call/desire of the first verse completely removes the possibility of experiencing the rest of the song’s desire.”
When people, beliefs aside, join their hands and light a myriad of candles while singing Imagine reverently (or at the top of their lungs) at some important gathering, it’s certainly not a bad thing. But there is a more excellent way.
God challenges us to ‘reimagine’ what the world and what the future is to be through the message of hope revealed to us through Jesus and his disciples. Some serious time spent reading the New Testament reveals that there is a God who is there and cares so deeply for us that He doesn’t want us to settle for the kind of peace that fades, but wants us to know a peace that is real, lasting and available to anyone by way of a dynamic relationship He is absolutely prepared to begin in each one of us. But take note, it will cost you – your preconceived notions about God, your level of comfort, your media-influenced beliefs or life choices, and possibly many other things along the way. But it will be well worth it in the long run.
Flagrant Regard, by way of this song, challenges you to reimagine peace, reimagine hope and reimagine what it means to truly experience life to the fullest.
It is our sincere hope that followers of Christ everywhere share this song whenever and wherever they can in order to open up discussion about or spark interest in the message of the cross.
In Him Who is Our Peace,