It is a question we will explore this coming Sunday morning as we complete our studies in the book of Nahum.
Nahum’s opening words in this final section reveal a deep and misplaced confidence that the Assyrian people had. They were sure they wouldn’t face the judgement of God; if any nation were to escape, surely it would be us, they thought. What follows is a fascinating insight into the arrogance of the nation, foolishly certain that if there were a God, he couldn’t humble them. I’ll save the details for Sunday morning.
What has struck me as I have prepared to preach on this final section of the prophecy is how similar our country and our continent are to the foolish and arrogant Assyrians. Again, it is a theme we will explore more on Sunday. In our (English/British/European) culture, we seem certain that, if there is a God, judgement is not and could not be on His agenda, and if it were, the sword would fall on others, not us.
And yet I am certain that there is some in-built sense of pending judgement, even if it is largely tucked away and hidden from view in all of us. The confident assertions seen in our media and heard from the lips of our leaders don’t always match the awareness of some form of greater accountability that many people feel deep down in their bones.
And yet if such sentiments are not forthcoming from our politicians, then our artists certainly seem to gravitate towards them. That is not to suggest these artists believe in the truth of the God of the Bible; rather to suggest that even a simple cultural analysis reveals an affiliation to, an embracing of, the concept of God’s judgement.
Take, for example, the old folk song variously called ‘Run On’ or ‘Run On For A Long Time’ or, more recently. ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’. It’s a song calling sinners to repentance and proclaiming to them the inevitability and the inescapable nature of God’s judgement.
“Go tell that long tongue liar,
go and tell that midnight rider,
tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.”
It is not a theme which immediately jumps to mind as fitting for popular music over many decades, and yet it is precisely this song and this theme which has endured. The song has been recorded and released by popular artists in almost every decade from the 1950s to today and it has been embraced and adapted by musicians from a huge variety of genres from gospel to rock, techno to pop. Elvis recorded the song in the early ’60s (I think, maybe late ’50s?), for example, as did Moby in the 1990s. Have a play on YouTube to find many more.
My favourite version of the song is by Johnny Cash. It is a version which was released after his death on the album ‘American V: A Hundred Highways’ (- a wonderful album, if you are interested, bettered only by ‘At Folmson Prison’ in my opinion). It is my favourite version for three reasons: firstly, Cash’s gritty, worn voice suits the subject matter perfectly. These aren’t words to be sung by young men and women who have still yet to really live. Cash’s voice is that of a man who has seen many things, lived many things. He isn’t singing of what he doesn’t know. He sings as a man who has walked these paths and has seen what lies ahead. Secondly, there is that underlying drum-clap beat. Here is the drumbeat of judgement and it is tireless and inescapable. It seeps into your soul as you listen. Finally, I think this is a greatest version of the song, not only because of the vocals and the musical composition, but because of the video produced. Star after star of popular culture appears, mouthing the vocals, clapping along. Something about this song has captured their imagination. Something about this song resonates with them. Something about this song, I suspect, resonates with all of us. It is certainly true that many people have been drawn to it; the video for the song on YouTube has accumulated over 11 million hits and counting.
Why is it so popular? Is it because we all carry within us a sense of coming judgement? What do you think?