Vampire Weekend Takes on God: Part IV

Part I, Part II, & Part III


Several months ago I was having a pretty bad evening, so I decided to do sort of a free form spew of what was on my mind.  Here were my thoughts:

Sometimes I think it would be easier to just be an atheist.  All those tragedies on a global scale… Things like earthquakes, tsunamis, genocides, Syria, and the Boston bombings would be much easier to swallow if I didn’t believe in a loving God.  All those atrocities around me…  Abusive fathers, crack-head mothers, suicidal teens, and neglected children would be much easier to deal with if I didn’t believe in a benevolent God.  My own fractured nature…  Mental illness, crushed hopes, persistent sins, ever present heartache, fatigue, and emptiness would be so much more comprehensible if everything were up to chance…  Things would be much easier if I could. I wouldn’t have to try and reconcile day in and day out what I see around and feel inside me with the message that “God is love.”

I think we’ve all been there.  That dark place of trying to reconcile reality as it is, with the reality of God.  This is particularly true when you’re presented with the God of the Bible.  In Scripture we see a God who is good, is aware of our suffering, is love, and is bringing his plan to completion.  Sometimes reconciling that God with reality as it is seems like an exhausting series of mental acrobatics.

It’s this struggle that I think Vampire Weekend taps into with their eclectic and ethereal wonder “Worship You.”  Ezra Koenig begins his lament by almost mocking God’s desire for worship.  He sing (raps, yodels, whatever you want to call this…):

Only in the way you want it
Only on the day you want it
Only with the understanding every single day you want it
You, you

Here Koenig seems to be pointing to God’s instructions for worship found in the Old Testament.  Given his Jewish upbringing  he’d be rather familiar with this.  Koenig continues:

City with the weight upon it
City in the way you want it
City with the safety of a never-ending blessing on it
You, you

I may be stretching the meaning a bit here, but given the rest of the song it seems as though Koenig is referencing Jerusalem and the state of God’s “chosen people.”  In this way the line, “City with the safety of a never-ending blessing on it” seems almost sarcastic given history.  I can almost here Koenig lamenting, “You’ve chosen us God!?!  To do what: Suffer!?!”

It is here that we’re taken to new heights with the chorus.  Koenig sings:

We worshipped you
Your red right hand
Won’t we see you once again?
In foreign soil, in foreign land
Who will guide us through the end?

Here Koenig sings in the voice of his exiled ancestors:

Psalm 137:1-4  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.   There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

As one who seems to be on the backside of God’s wrath (“His red right hand to plague us?” Paradise Lost) Koenig is crying for deliverance.  In the midst of this exile, in the midst of this suffering who will save us?  “Who will guide us through the end?”

In the final verses of “Worship You” the heat is turned up.  Similar to Job, Koenig demands an answer from God.  He laments:

Calling on a change we want it
Calling on the same we want it
Calling for the misery to always be explained we want it
You, you

Then in the final verse he declares:

Energetic praise you wanted
Any kind of place you wanted
Little bit of light to get us through the final days

In this verse leaves off where he began.  “God if you want this praise, then you need to give us some light.”

As a Christian I can identify with Koenig’s lament.  It’s been 2,000 years since the events of the Cross and Resurrection and almost everything in the world seems to contradict the realities that were revealed there.  God please can we have “a little bit of light to get us through the final days.”

Martin Luther called this kind of lament the Tentatio (Agonizing Struggle) in which:

everything disappears / and I see nothing but my nothingness and destruction ‘ in which I become and enemy to myself and the entire wold becomes my  enemy; yes, even God himself causes agony for me… (Bayer 21)

For Luther this Agonizing Struggle is especially poignant when we’re confronted with the harsh nature of reality.  Commenting on Luther, theologian Oswald Bayer writes:

Since God’s love cannot be demonstrated, cannot be positioned safely beyond all doubt, whoever believes lives in agonizing struggle. (212)

There is only one thing that can save us in the middle of these struggles and that is to flee to “the light of the Gospel.”  Bayer writes:

Only through Christ does the Holy Spirit let one see into the heart of God the Father.  Only in this way will he be experienced as love. (213)

In other words, in the midst of our Agonizing Struggles, we can only find comfort in the message of the Gospel.  Where experience, reality, and reason fail; the Gospel provides.  In Luther’s words the Agonizing Struggle:

Teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is. (21)

That’s the conclusion I came to on that dark night several months ago when I wrote:

Things would be much easier if I could. I wouldn’t have to try and reconcile day in and day out what I see around and feel inside me with the message that “God is love.”  That message though won’t let me go.  I can’t shake it no matter how much I want to.  When I was utterly helpless and an enemy of God, Jesus came; died; and rose again.  That’s it…  That’s my only hope…  That’s all I got…  As much as I want to shake it, it won’t let go.  Thank God it’s not dependent on how I feel…

Circling this back around to Vampire Weekend then, let me just say this: like the books of Psalms, Job, and Lamentations Koenig’s “Worship You” is an honest lament to God over a reality that seems to contradict him.  As Christians we can sing this lament as well, but with a minor difference: we sing it clinging to the message of the Gospel.  We sing it looking to the past (Jesus’ death and Resurrection) and hoping to the future (Jesus’ return and our Resurrections).  Or as William Cowper sings in his hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “Behind a frowning providence; Faith sees a smiling face.”  As will see next week, this is almost the same conclusion Koenig comes to as well.

Oswald Bayer.  “Martin Luther’s Theology


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