March 30, 2017. Today we’ll be taking a look at “Even If” by MercyMe which currently sits at #2 on 20TheCountdownMagazine.
This week’s song is refreshingly honest for what we see in CCM these days. Some real writing went into these lyrics, there is a lot being shared. The pain being shared is the exhaustion of American revivalism, though I doubt the artist would recognize that. Let’s give the song a listen and then work through the lyric.
Official Lyric Video
Lyrics (via K-LOVE)
They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now
Right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage
Night after night
Reminding the broken
It’ll be alright
But right now
Oh right now I just can’t
It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
A little faith is all I have right now
But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can
It is well with my soul
Overall, this song fits in roughly the same vein as “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle (DiM Post), but MercyMe has gone about it better by keeping it more of a confession of what’s going on in his head/heart with clear statements. There are some truly thankful confessions in this song, too, that really set it apart. We also see an artful outro bringing in “It is well with my soul” which reminds us of the Spafford Hymn. The one thing lacking is a comfort drawn directly from Scripture, instead we get more of a “renewed commitment” from the singer. This is part of American Revivalism, the part that strips the Gospel of its rest and comfort and leads Christians to continuously strive to muster up their will to do more, believe more, hope more, love more, etc.
Verse 1. “they say” here is a valid appeal to a colloquialism “you win some, you lose some”. The artist is setting the stage. He feels like he’s won a lot in the past, has done a good job of encouraging others “it’ll be alright”. I’m assuming this is referring to encouraging believers. That is the majority of the MercyMe’s market, Christians who are looking for musical encouragement. This time, though, the singer is in need of encouragement himself. That’s honest. That’s real. Enthusiasm runs out of gas. Our flesh can only muster a finite amount of “umph”, our flesh is weak, sinful, and selfish.
First Pre-chorus. “It’s easy to sing, when there’s nothing to bring me down” this line gives me pause. It’s one of those statements that can only seem true on an emotional level, like, “It’s easy to sing when you’re not really feeling any emotional burdens”. Theologically speaking, this isn’t a truth statement. It smacks of triumphalism, or a theology of Glory, which focuses on the Christian being above the problems of this world by virtue of being a Christian. It undermines the truth of the simul, that in this life believers are simultaneously sinners and saints. Our flesh brings us down, our hearts defile us, we sin. The artist is describing the emotional roller-coaster of revivalism. We go to church or a tent-meeting, enjoy some music and heart-felt preaching about how “I gotta, I need to, if only I’d, Once I then do then He’ll do, etc.” and I dedicate myself to making that leap of faith, that re-commitment, that contract with God that I’ll do better from this point on… I feel great. I feel victorious. I’m a conquer. I have the faith to move mountains and slay giants and walk on water. But this isn’t increased faith, it’s an emotional high. And it will drop off. We’ll run out of gas. We will stumble and fall. And then what? Despair. All of the sudden, we realize we are in the fire. We realize the war is still raging within our members, the flesh craving sin, the Spirit warring against the flesh.
Romans 7:15-25 (ESV)
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Galatians 5:13-24 (ESV)
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
A major problem with Revivalism, is that the emotional high is a placebo that provides no real grounding in the believer. There is no building up of faith because the focus of Revivalism is the believer rather than the Savior. So, once the emotions run out, the believer is left drained and no better equipped to deal with the struggles of this life and the real trials and tribulations we face in this fallen world.
Chorus. The chorus is a confession being sung by the singer that God is able to rescue the singer from this current struggle, but even if He doesn’t the singer is confessing that God is still his only Hope. This is pulling from the confession of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego:
Daniel 3:14-18 (ESV)
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
This is a bold confession these men made, a confession that can only be made by Faith. These men weren’t merely facing an emotional slump, a bad day, a recession, illegal taxation without representation, religious discrimination in the work place… they were going to be thrown into a raging fiery inferno, burned to death. Revivalists often take these statements from the heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11 reference) and emotionalize them, diminishing them so that we can be heroes in our everyday lives. Goliath becomes something as petty and fleeting as a job interview, and the fiery furnace becomes that traffic ticket you got for speeding 20mph over the speed limit. When you trivialize the enemy, you also make little of our Savior.
The confession itself is true. God is Able and He is Just, Merciful, and Holy even if He doesn’t intervene in time and space for this present circumstance. What the weary believer needs isn’t a renewed hope in temporal rescue with an eternal lifeboat “just in case”, the weary believer needs to be reminded that he is already on the Ark and is being carried to Eternity with Christ.
1 Peter 3:13-22 (ESV)
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
This is how Peter encouraged those who were going through intense persecution. The Promise of Salvation isn’t so petty a thing to be shaken by temporal hardships, or emotional downturns, and it cannot be strengthened by a mere rousing of the will or personal resolve… the Promise is in what Christ as done for you, and for me, for all of eternity. The waves smashing against the ark, lighting strikes and thunderclaps do not prevail against the Ark, that is Christ Jesus, in whom we are Saved by Grace through Faith and that not of ourselves. There is comfort in that. Let’s look at the passage.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Verse 2. I’m not happy with this use of “they say”. Don’t appeal to a colloquialism when we have Scripture.
Matthew 17:20 (ESV) He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Better to appeal to “Jesus said”, and then actually look at what He said. This is not an appeal to “growing your faith” as if it is fuel in your spiritual tank. Let’s look at a cross-reference in Luke
Luke 17:1-10 (ESV)
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Faith isn’t something you muster up, it is something God gives you. To grow in faith is to grow in that faith that has been given to you by God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. We don’t need more than was given us, we simply need to trust in what Christ has already done. The Apostle Peter points to this in the opening chapter of his first Epistle:
1 Peter 1:6-9 (ESV) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
That “little bit of faith is all I have” is all you need, because it isn’t the amount of faith you can muster, it is in Whom the faith you’ve been given rests.
I do love this song for its honesty and clarity of confession. The influence of Revivalism is so deeply ingrained in American Christianity that most probably won’t even see the major role it is playing in these lyrics. Without the clear proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for you for eternity, we are left with the revivalistic roller coaster.
If you’ve made it this far and would like to know more about my reference to Revivalism and American Christianity, I’d like to recommend a book by Bryan Wolfmueller called, “Has American Christianity Failed?”.
We’re leaving this song in the middle-category as there isn’t a clear Gospel in the song, though we do really like the song, personally. Please remember that the point of these reviews is the exercise of reviewing songs and the theology therein.
Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,