We left off last week with Ezra Koenig and the gang experiencing the agonizing struggle that comes from faith in a good God. Simply put, with all the pain and suffering in the world and our hearts how can one believe in any sort of god let alone one who is good? In the midst of this struggle Koenig wraps up the chorus of “Worship You” with a prayer, “Who will guide us through the end?”
This said, in our final post of this series we’re offered a resolution of sorts in Vampire Weekend’s song, “Ya Hey” (Yahweh get it…). It’s a messy resolution, but are important ones ever clean?
As with the rest of the album “Ya Hey” oscillates between faith, doubt, and anger. Koenig begins with a series of assertions that almost seem to insult and compliment God at the same time.
Oh, sweet thing [God]
Zion Doesn’t love you
And Babylon don’t love you
But you love everything
Here it seems as though Koenig is both acknowledging humanity’s culpability when it comes to God and God’s everlasting, not to mention patient, love. What makes this message all the more poignant is Koenig places God’s chosen people, “Zion,” on the same level as their enemies, Babylon. Simply put, we’re on in the same boat, no one is exempt, no one loves God. Here I couldn’t help but be reminded of Paul’s epistle to the Romans where he writes:
Romans 3:10-11 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Romans 3:22-23 “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
As with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Koenig makes a surprising assertion. In spite of humanity’s loveless attitude toward it’s creator he “loves everything.” Again I couldn’t help but be reminded of the New Testament message:
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Now, to be honest, I don’t think Koenig had the gospel in mind when he was writing this song, but the parallels are interesting nonetheless.
Following this, the remainder of the song seems to be a wrestling match between this idea of God’s one-way love, God’s hiddeness, the brokenness of the world, and Koenig’s own doubting heart. To listen to this is truly fascinating. Koenig continues:
Oh, you saint
America don’t love you
So I could never love you
In spite of everything
Here, Koenig seems to be reiterating what he’s already said. Not only do the Jews and Babylonians lack love for God, so does the “religious” nation of America. As a result of all of this Koenig concludes verse one by including himself in the equation. Like everyone else, he lacks love for God, in spite of everything.
At this point in the pre-chorus the mood seems to change. Koenig writes:
In the dark of this place; There’s the glow of your face
There’s the dust on the screen; Of this broken machine
And I can’t help but feel that I made some mistake
But I let it go
Putting together the context clues it seems as though Koenig is now entering the center of his faith struggle. In the darkness of the world and his heart, he sees the glow of God’s face and because of this he begins to see that he has made some sort of mistake. For my money I think he’s talking about his lack of love from God. In the end though, Koenig seems to let the conviction go.
It’s here we come to the chorus, which I think reveals the dead center of Koenig’s agonizing struggle: reconciling the love of God with his hidden ways. Referencing the Moses story he sings:
Through the fire and through the flames; You won’t even say your name
Only I am what I am
But who could ever live that way? (YA-HEY)
In the midst of all the world’s confusion, Koenig is calling God out for his lack of transparency. He’s crying out, “God we’re dying here! You say you love us, but you won’t even give us a name!” Faced with the hiddeness of God Koenig is ready to turn away from his faith.
In verse three though Koenig circles back to the world’s lack of love for God, but with some subtle differences. Here, Koenig asks a question that the gospel answers. He writes:
OH, The motherland don’t love you
The fatherland don’t love you
So why love anything?
OH, good God; The faithless they don’t love you
The zealous hearts don’t love you
And that’s not gonna change
Simply put, in the midst of his confusion and doubt, Koenig is still captivated by God’s love. He can’t fathom why God would continue to love a people that rejects him. It’s here that Koenig’s agonizing struggle finds some resolution. He sings:
And I think in your heart; That you see the mistakes
But you let it go (YA-HEY)
The mistakes, the problems, the fears, the insecurities, the evil acts of man, are let go by I am that I am who speaks grace into the world.
Koenig most likely does not have the Christian idea of grace in his head as he’s writing this song, but YA-HEY definitely echoes its realities. Koenig’s fears, doubts, and anxiety are resolved by this. As I said earlier, it’s not a perfect resolution, but it is one nonetheless.
As a Christian I find this song immensely moving. It reflects the real struggle we all have. God in his hiddeness has not revealed everything to us. Why things are the way they are answered only in bits and pieces. What he does reveal though is that he’s done and is doing something about it. On the cross, to use Koenig’s words, God reveals he loves a world that doesn’t love him. More than this he reveals the grace and forgiveness that brought Koenig to a resolution of sorts. Sure we are still perplexed, frustrated, and hurt by the realities of our lives and God’s hiddeness; but hope begins to thrive as we continually come back to God where he has made himself known: the cross. Martin Luther says it this way:
Hold up before our eyes the image of his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Every day he should be our excellent mirror wherein we behold how much God loves us and how well, in his infinite goodness, he has cared for us in that he gave his dear Son for us.
When we do this, faith begins to grow in the midst of our harsh realities and from this hope is birthed. I have the boys of Vampire Weekend to thank for reminding me of that.