By: Thomas Fletcher Booher
I watched Ray Comfort's new documentary about John Lennon called Genius. I must admit that I was not aware of John Lennon's backstory, singing in an Anglican choir as a boy, growing up in a cold and calculated Christian culture that prompted him to say "We're more popular than Jesus" after The Beatles hit it big. Whether he meant that as a simple statement of fact from his perspective or because he disliked the Christian faith and religion in general appears to actually be a more debatable question than I realized, but a bit of both is likely true. John Lennon said he wanted happiness, and inquired about what Christianity could offer him to make him happy (perhaps if John Piper had talked to him about Christian Hedonism Lennon would have understood that the only true joy is found in glorifying God).
Most people consider Lennon's song Imagine to be about the wickedness of religion and the community/brotherhood of man that should take its place. What I want to address is the fact that many people have taken the song that way, and many people today, a generation later, are living their life with that philosophy.
No, I am not talking about atheists only, but those masses of people who say they are "spiritual, not religious" and even the pseudo-evangelical slogan "it's not a religion it's a relationship." The spiritual, not religious crowd rally around people like Rob Bell. The "it's not a religion it's a relationship" crowd rally around men like Perry Noble, Steve Furtick, and all those online, seeker-sensitive type churches that bring in stunts and kicks and giggles to entertain the masses into feeling good for Jesus and nothing more. Across the board, even among those who call themselves Christians we are seeing a distancing away from religious authority. Which is to say, we are moving away from the authority and teaching of God as revealed in His Word, the Holy Bible, and replacing it with secular pop-psychology and ideology. We just place a Jesus sticker on it, call the place where we gather "church," call the self-help gurus "pastors," and call the paying (tithing) followers of the gurus "congregants." The Bible is opened largely to get people to make a commitment so that they can go to heaven after they die and not suffer in hell. This, too, is what John Lennon wanted. Happiness. Heaven, not hell. Lennon is quoted as saying:
Explain to me what Christianity can do for me. Is it phony? Can He love me?
I want out of hell.
He purportedly wrote that to an evangelist in 1972, eight years before he died. He saw himself as in hell while on earth (something Rob Bell loves to talk about). He saw religion as the problem (something Bell talks about as well). Again, many people today who take on the name of Christ see religion as the problem. Is it?
In one sense yes, in another no. Killing in the name of Christ, like the Crusaders, is a black mark on Christianity, on religion. Islam is a dark mark on religion. But God tells us that there is such a thing as true religion, and it is very good. In fact, it is exactly what John Lennon claimed to want and be looking for, he just didn't know it:
James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
Visiting orphans and widows in their affliction sounds an awful lot like some of the desires Lennon expressed in his song Imagine:
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you canNo need for greed or hungerA brotherhood of manImagine all the peopleSharing all the world...
Visiting widows and orphans to help meet their needs certainly has in mind the need of hunger. Greed, however, is another issue, one that Lennon couldn't come to grips with. He thought the solution, per the song, was a world with no possessions, no countries, no religion, no heaven or hell, in short, nothing to kill or die for. Just sharing all the world. This would probably look a lot like World Wide Socialism. In fact, this would be world wide socialism. And with the re-election of Barack Obama, that seems to be something we are taking a step closer to, at least here in America. But equal sharing of all the world is not something sinful man wants. If all worked equally hard, equal sharing would be reasonable. Some are lazy, some work because work makes money and making money gets what they want, which is all that brings them happiness. So both laziness and working hard can be due to greed, and all of us are struck with the sin of greed. So then, no one will share all the world. Lennon will figure this out eventually as you will see.
But James 1:27 says something more. It says that pure and undefiled religion is also keeping oneself unstained from the world. This is talking about morality. This is talking about being holy, godly, Christ-like. That is where the solution comes to the problem of evil in the world. The evil is within us, not in the possessions, countries, or religion, but the way men and women take the things of this world and covet what another man has. This is the 10 commandments, isn't it? Don't steal, kill, or covet, but it is summed up in loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, then your neighbor as yourself. For if we lived for ourselves and loved our selves more than God, then to treat our neighbors as ourselves could be taken to treat others for your best interests, not theirs. Especially if there is no heaven or hell and we are just living for the moment.
That's exactly what Ray Comfort demonstrates in the documentary. When asking normal people he met at parks and on streets how much it would cost to murder someone, most said they would do it for a couple million bucks, provided they wouldn't get in trouble for it. Those who said they wouldn't do it as a matter of principle said so because of their belief in God, or at least a belief in a higher being/law that had authority over them. People who said this were fans of John Lennon, and presumably his philosophy as espoused in his song Imagine. Yet no brotherhood of man for them if they can make money and get away with the murder. Why? Because of greed. Because it isn't the possibility of owning things that is the problem with this world, but the covetousness of man that wants to own things to the point that they will kill for them.
John Lennon toward the end of his life said he once equated money with sin, but later came to realize that
"Money itself isn't the root of all evil. Money is just a concept; also it's just energy. So now you could say I've come to terms with money and making money."
He would also, in response to being asked why he didn't still do benefit concerts for starving children in South America, say:
So where do people get off saying that the Beatles should give two hundred million dollars to South America? You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn't mean a thing. After they've eaten that meal, then what? It only lasts for a day.
Making money is the key to happiness for those who live the American Dream. Money is fallen man's god because it is the key to getting all that you want in life. I believe Lennon began to realize this when he said money is energy (read: power), and if there is no heaven or hell, no afterlife, then making money is the key to heaven, to happiness and bliss that John Lennon sought. For Lennon heaven and hell were right now, and after the music stops, life is eternally over. So from that perspective, money really is the root of all kinds of evil, just as Scripture says (1 Tim 6:10). Making money becomes the way to live your best life now (Joel Osteen anyone?) because that's all you've got, so live in this moment, for the day(like Lennon says in his song).
Now I want to point out two things: Firstly, that when we stray from the Word of God we are straying away from true and undefiled religion. When we do this, we stray away from true happiness, which is found in sound doctrine that transforms the way you live your life and what you live it for. Lastly, Lennon imagined what a world without possessions, countries, religions, in short what a socialistic earth would look like, and he didn't like it. In the final analysis, he said he came to peace with making money and not trying to raise money for poor, starving children. By trying to get away from religion he started becoming the very thing he hated about his misunderstanding of true religion. If only he had looked to true religion, found in the teaching and living of Jesus Christ and all the Bible, then John Lennon would have found true, eternal, lasting happiness that doesn't cease after the meal is finished, after one of your crazed fans shoots you to death. Where does one find such food that sustains life forever?
Jesus Christ says He is the Bread of Life in John 6.
27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
32 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus Christ died on a cross, enduring the righteous wrath of God against all the sin of sinners. To receive this life, we must feed on the Bread of Life. Christ is that Bread. This is what communion is for, this is why Christians eat bread and drink wine at church, because it symbolizes the body and blood of Christ broken for His people. To feed on Christ is to trust in what He did on the cross for you, to believe that His body was struck with the wrath of God, with hell, in your place, and that Christ's sinless, righteous, unstained-from-the-world life is imputed to you, is accredited to your account. All the suffering in the world, all the sin in man's heart, will be done away with when Christ returns. Those who did not trust in Christ will suffer God's wrath in hell forever, but the good news is, as verse 40 says, those who die trusting in Christ for salvation will be raised imperishable, incorruptible into a life free of sin, sorrow, and suffering, where it is a brotherhood of man, united together as the bride of Christ, having in common the Lord God as their Father.
So don't miss the love of Christ like John Lennon did. Christ's love was expressed in true and undefiled religion, by visiting orphans and widows and helping them and by keeping His heart from greed and all forms of sin. Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that Christ saved us by grace through faith as a gift of God, not of works so that none of us may boast. In order to be saved we can't be greedy and say we did it. Rather, we must become humble and see that the problem with the world is us, not the things in the world, and that our hearts are desperately wicked. We love evil and hate good. We live for ourselves first and not God or others. The only way this can be changed is by having the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5), and the only way the love of Christ can be shed abroad in our hearts is if you trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Then His loving, Holy Spirit will enter you and change your desires and affections to be humble and selfless, loving God and man and not being greedy.
Yes, as John Lennon asked, He really can love you. He loves me, gave Himself for me, and transformed me from a self-loving boaster to one who, by God's grace, is resisting self-love and all forms of sin and gradually living more and more for God's purposes and others. And I can honestly say that I have never been happier in my life.
To close, I exhort you, if you have not come to Christ, to do so in the manner that Isaiah 55:1 speaks of:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money,come, buy and eat!Come, buy wine and milkwithout money and without price.