This week in our Engaging Culture and Finding God series my Bible Community discussed the idea of redeeming culture. Is it possible to redeem culture? If so, what might that look like?
The example that our discussion leader put forth was the song â??Hurtâ?? by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The song is about emptiness, pain, and drug addiction, and the music video is dark and grotesque. While the song and video certainly convey the fallen state of the creative force behind them, it is difficult to label either the song or the video overtly redemptive.
And then came Johnny Cash. As you may or may not know, the country legendâ??s life was marked by the childhood death of his brother, an adversarial relationship with his father, divorce, shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die, drug abuse, and eventually faith in Christ (rent Walk The Line or read Cash by Johnny Cash for more info).
At age 71 Cash recorded a cover of Trent Reznorâ??s â??Hurtâ?? and released it on the album American IV - The Man Comes Around. The music video that followed was amazing. Footage of Cash, humbled by age and illness, sitting alone with his guitar or at the head of a banquet table, is interspersed with footage of Cash as a younger man, loved ones he lost along the way (or would soon lose), and images of Christ.
Trent Reznorâ??s lyrics (except for one omitted obscenity) were redeemed by the voice, imagery, faith, and life of Johnny Cash. For what its worth, the music industry responded. Artists from Bono to Justin Timberlake declared the video the most powerfully moving work the music video medium had ever produced.
While I believe that one day culture (music, values, art, relationships, etc.) will be fully redeemed/recreated, â??Hurtâ?? seems to be the perfect example of how followers of Christ can begin redeeming culture in the present. I wonder what would happen if we would follow Mr. Cashâ??s example by getting knee-deep in culture and redeeming it from within.
The idea of redeeming culture is somewhat abstract, but it struck me as quite a parallel to the redemption we can experience through coming to faith. God begins his redemptive work in us while we are here on earth, but we know there is more to come. We know that the redemptive work, the recreation of mankind and culture, is a work in progress, and that we have promised it will be completed. Every tear will be wiped away and every song will be perfect in its composition and performance.