How a Song by an Atheist Helped Me to See God

Originally published Thursday, 05 February 2015.

When she asked me if the song was okay to listen to because it was written and sung by an atheist, I had to pause. First, I didn’t know the artist was an atheist, and I guess I should have known that before encouraging her to listen. Second, I was confused because, despite the artist’s religious beliefs (or lack of them) his song encouraged me to think about God.

It took me a week to get back to her; we were on a family vacation, and I was grateful to have the excuse to not respond right away.

For I had some things I needed to work out.

Because I believe God has made us capable of hearing Him and seeing Him all around us. Even in the places where we least expect to see Him and feel Him and hear Him.

He can use anything–and I believe He will use anything–in order to reach us. To help us to get to know Him. To help us to feel more inclined to turn.

I want to turn.

In this particular song–and in other art that is secular and not necessarily Christian–God can use it to reveal Himself to me, to us. I want to believe this. I do believe this. It is is my life story.

If a sixteen year old girl who believes selfishness is the best way to live is shepherded by Jesus–her King who loves her in the midst of her committing the most shameful act she has ever committed in her life–there is hope. And there is redemption.

God can make even the darkest of hearts beautiful. I know. know who I am without Jesus’ rescue and God’s love. Or, at least I have been given a glimpse of what I am capable of. On my own. Without God.

I don’t want to be that person again.

So I look for Him. I spend my days looking for Jesus. I am desperate to see Him, to hear Him, to feel Him, to live knowing He is in my moments, the regular moments of the everyday. When I walk the dog and I see God’s glory in California February when pink and white blossoms stretch bright to the sky. When I put dishes in the dishwasher my husband emptied before he took our girl to school. In the bedtime conversations with our sons about ISIS and the sadness of such horrible things continuing to happen.

Over and over and over, without relief.

And I hear the song playing, the one written by and sung by an atheist. Is it possible these words can wash over me like hope?:

Look into the sun as the new days rise
There’s a rhythm in rush these days
Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone lean

But there is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming open your eyes
Look into the sun as new days rise

I keep the song on repeat. For it makes me consider a thought I don’t want to forget: Isn’t our God so big and so good and so amazing that everything can be used to bring him glory?

Now, I know there is music and there are environments and there are things we see and hear and experience that make us more open to the enemy getting in and trying to turn us away from God. And I think we know it when we are on dangerous ground–when art or situations we experience do not prompt us to see God’s beauty or stir us to want to love. Rather, they make us insecure and selfish and prideful and cynical and lonely.

But everything God creates is beauty. And everything He creates is for His glory. Everything He creates testifies to His love. I know we must not be asleep to the reality of the evil in our world, the prince of darkness, the father of lies.

Yet . . .

But there is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming open your eyes
Look into the sun as new days rise

Isn’t it possible, even in the most horrible, darkest, most desolate places, I can still see God? Can’t God use everything for his good?

Am I naive?

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

We know this earth is filled with evil, and we struggle to see God’s goodness some days. Darkness seems to be eating up our world and torturing His children. Yes, we want to be careful of what we expose ourselves to. Yes, we need to be wary. Yes, we need to guard our hearts (1 Peter 5:8).

But this question about this song helped me realize how desperate I am to see God in the dark places. For while I look to God’s light, I want to see where He is, too, in the dark. I need Him to bring His light to the dark.

This is what I finally wrote back to her:

One thing I love about art–whether it is music or a piece of writing or a painting, sculpture, etc.–is the invitation of the person experiencing the art to translate the meaning of it for themselves. When I listen to this song, despite the views of the artist, I experience beauty; I hear God’s whisper. I love how God can use any person He has created, any situation, any experience as an opportunity to seek Him, despite (and in spite of, sometimes!) the artist’s personal opinions when creating the piece of art itself. Once the art is created, it is the viewer/listener experiencing the art to render personal meaning.

And I wonder if this is what our life amounts to: our choices–choices about what we choose to believe, yes, but also what we choose to see, to hear, to feel, to receive.

What’s one way you see God in our secular world?

*The song referred to in this post is “Stay Alive”, by Jose Gonzalez. For email subscribers of the devotional Loop, I include a song, twice a week, that helps me hear and think about God. You can subscribe to Loop for free and (receive a free ebook) here.

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