The Theme Song of Hell

If I were asked to give the title of my favorite song, I don’t know what I would say. I like too many.

If I were asked, by someone trying to make the task easier, to list ten of my favorite songs, I don’t think I could do that, either. Same problem. Too many.

I like so many songs! Different styles, genres, eras. Oh, I could list some of my favorites that I’ve sung, performed, and even recorded—but, when push comes to shove, that would be like asking me to list my favorite grandchildren. They’re all my favorites in different ways, and the specific joys that they bring are beautifully unique.

But, back to songs. A song doesn’t have to be perfect for me to like it. Hey, I was in high school in the Seventies. Lots happened in that era that no one should be proud of, but some of the music was pretty amazing. Even if I listen critically to some of the words—some utterly naive nonsense and some a lot worse than nonsense—some of those harmonies, I still like.

But, if you changed the question and asked me to mention the names of some songs that I really dislike, I could name some. Some have rotten lyrics. Some have lousy music. Some are just ugly and wallow self-importantly in ugliness.

No one will ever ask me this question, but if someone asked me to nominate the theme song of Hell, I’d not have to think twice. It is…

Now, a pause. I realize that I may be picking on a song you like. If so, I apologize. I’m not picking on Paul Anka, who wrote the English lyrics, or on Frank Sinatra or Elvis. Sinatra’s version, I’m told, spent 75 weeks on the UK Top 40. No small feat. Lots of people liked it. Not me.

The song is… Drum roll…

“I Did It My Way.”

I’m not wild about the tune. It takes itself far too seriously. And the lyrics? Much worse. Maybe I’m taking “My Way” the wrong way by taking its lyrics too seriously, too. I’ve tried to read them in a more positive context, but it doesn’t work; they make me cringe.

A guy saying these words would, it seems to me, be well worth avoiding. Look up the lyrics and tell me if this is a guy you’d trust very far. I think of a paunchy, boozy guy in a moth-eaten leisure suit, gray chest hair billowing out through three unbuttoned buttons, a gold neck chain nestled in his scraggly fur, and the tear-floated wreckage of ex-wives and brokenhearted children bobbing in his wake.

Note: If you think that I think the generation that produced that song has a lock on selfish sleaze, you’d be wrong. In the generations since, it almost seems that if our goal was to epitomize weakness, selfishness, self-centeredness, soft-headedness, and whininess, we could hardly have done a better job. Pass out the participation trophies, utter any four-letter word except the unutterable word “duty,” make sure we have decades to “find ourselves,” and ask every hour on the hour with ever-increasing poignancy, “Am I happy yet?” Thereby ensuring misery.

This is sadly funny, but a colleague of mine attended a funeral where that song was played. His church was hosting as another pastor performed the service, and he was up in the sound booth helping a staff member. Somewhere during “I Did It My Way,” she leaned over and whispered, “He sure did! And that’s why he ran through three wives.”

In Paradise Lost, John Milton puts Satan’s focus in perspective: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” Yeah, my way. And Hell for all around him.

The great Scottish preacher and author George MacDonald spoke deep truth when he said that “the one principle of Hell is ‘I am my own.’”

That is exactly what anyone who bows before God can never say. Oh, we fall short and fall into selfishness often. But we know Whose we are, and we believe that in bowing to him we find our true freedom and the power to become the best selves we could ever be. Ironic, isn’t it? The surest way to become a twisted, bent, and grotesque caricature of what we might have been outside of self is to worship at the altar of self. It’s hard to find happiness in a soul-sucking black hole called “My Way.”

The One before whom “every knee shall bow” is precisely the One who went willingly to a cross in the most supreme act of unselfish love this world, this universe, has ever seen. And he is the One who not only says, “Follow me,” but also gives us the power to follow.

It’s not about self. Not about how bad we are or how good we are. It’s about Whose we are. It’s about pardon won on a cross. Not by us. It’s about power bursting forth from an empty tomb. For us, but not procured by us.  

It’s the way to songs of deepest joy we’ll yet sing. Oh, we’ve sung some of the preliminary notes right here, but even the tones here that almost break our hearts with beauty are only quiet notes in the symphony that awaits. Souls here could not possibly stand that level of joy, but one day, they’ll be ready for the music unmuted. I know what song we will not be singing.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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