John Mayer’s Belief

Belief, by John Mayer, was a song I had heard several times before I really noticed the lyrics. Here they are:

Is there anyone who
Ever remembers changing their mind from
The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time

Everyone believes
In how they think it ought to be
Everyone believes
And they’re not going easily

Belief is a beautiful armor
But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water
You never can hit who you’re trying for

Some need the exhibition
And some have to know they tried
It’s the chemical weapon
For the war that’s raging on inside

Everyone believes
From emptiness to everything
Everyone believes
And no one’s going quietly

We’re never gonna win the world
We’re never gonna stop the war
We’re never gonna beat this
If belief is what we’re fighting for

What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand
Belief can
Belief can
What puts the folded flag inside his mother’s hand
Belief can
Belief can

Song lyrics can be cryptic, but here’s my interpretation of the song. Ideological convictions, which could be religious, political or national, have too often led to violent conflict. These beliefs are the “chemical weapon” for inner conflict and boil over into overt confrontation with others. Peace and harmony (winning the world and stopping the war) will never occur as long as everyone is fighting for their particular ideology. Not only is the tactic of violence and conflict to spread beliefs destructive, it is pointless since everyone has their own beliefs and they are unlikely to change in the face of such tactics.

As a Christian, there may be a natural reaction against the sentiment of this song. True belief is not a source of destruction but a source of security and hope. Yet, it is hard to deny that the Christians have not always lived up to their calling. The inquisition, the Crusades, and the Thirty Years’ War are a few reminders of what happens when religious fervor seeks to spread its cause with violence.

Today, physical violence is still common on the world stage. In the borders of this country, physical violence may be rare, but confrontation can reach the status of violence with unruly tactics. Shouting matches and protests tend to polarize in a manner described by the song.

For me, I come away with a few affirmations in dialogue with the song.

  • The message of Christ shuns violence.
  • The gospel of Christ needs to be spread. When truly practiced, the gospel will improve human relations.
  • While beliefs can be spread in an improper way, the gospel should be spread through the means of dialogue and persuasion, not coercion.
  • One of the premier characteristics of the Christian faith is love for fellow human beings. All humans should be respected because they are made in the image of God.
  • We should recognize God’s Sovereignty. It is true that we will never win the war through violent conflict. Neither will the war be won through passive means. In all truth, none of us will win the war in a world filled with sin. Only God will be able to set all things to right, bringing justice and ultimate peace.

Yes, John Mayer is right that belief can bring destruction and conflict, but it doesn’t have to. Belief can sustain life and goodness by livining into the image of Christ and a world ruled by the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of men.

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