Country music provides plenty of options for this category. My go-to-guy for heart-wrenching, gut-punching break-up songs is without question Chris Isaak.
I bought Chris Isaak’s Forever Blue album back in ’95 when I was 16-years old. Every single track is a tale of romantic woe, heartache and a hopeless outlook on love. Isaak’s matchless Elvis-Orbison-like voice and soothing acoustic guitar makes this otherwise painfully depressing collection of songs enjoyable.
My friend, Peter, is still upset a decade and a half later that I made him listen to the entire album start to finish in my car as part of his “healing” the night he broke up with his girlfriend. I thought it would provide some solace and sympathy reminding him he wasn’t alone, and “misery loves company.” He claims it was pure torture and only threw salt on his wounded heart. Here’s a taste:
(Chris Isaak, Forever Blue)
On second thought, maybe he was right…
Unfaithful lovers. Wounded hearts. Longing and regret. Fighting and forgiveness. Pain and sorrow. Long, lonely nights. All core elements of a good break-up song and all part of the universal human experience — going back thousands of years by the way. As we continue our melodious trek through the Bible, tracing the theme of The Father’s Song, we come now to the books of the prophets of Israel.
The prophetic books of the Bible are filled with emotional outpouring. Every mood is captured. Still I believe we are not too far off base to call the prophetic books the “country break-up songs” of the Hebrew tradition. Over and over God is portrayed as the Wounded Lover chasing after his unfaithful bride, Israel, who keeps running after other lovers.
Philip Yancey’s well-known description captures this image well:
“The powerful image of a jilted lover explains why, in his speeches to the prophets, God seems to “change his mind” every few seconds. He is preparing to obliterate Israel — wait, now he is weeping, holding out open arms — no, he is sternly pronouncing judgment again. Those shifting moods seem hopelessly irrational, except to anyone who has been jilted by a lover. The words of the prophets sound like the words of a lovers’ quarrel drifting through thin apartment walls” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God, p. 99).
Like a junior high girl delivering her friend’s break-up note to the poor boy at his locker, so the prophets serve as the unlucky messenger bringing tension-filled, heart-felt words back and forth between God to unfaithful Israel. Hearts are broken. Love is betrayed. Tempers flare and tears flow. Forgiveness and reconciliation hang in the balance. Israel’s collection of break-up songs sound a lot like today’s sad country songs except for the stereotypical rusty trucks, booze and dying dogs.
The prophet Hosea is a living parable of God’s strained relationship with unfaithful Israel permeating the prophets. Hosea is told by God to marry Gomer, an unfaithful wife, and to continue to lavish his love on her despite her adulterous ways. Through Hosea God sings forth his broken-hearted song of betrayal, but with a hopeful twist in the tail:
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’
I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,”
declares the LORD.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.
– Hosea 2
Yes, The Father’s Song is not without it’s southern twang and somber notes. Like Chris Isaak after a devastating break-up, Patsy Cline on lonely walk after midnight, or Alanis Morrisett after a heated argument, the prophets refuse to sugarcoat the messy, complicated nature of the relationship between God and wayward human beings.
The prophets pour forth raw, gut-level honesty to the incriminating truth that we are the one’s who are in the wrong, we are the one’s who “started it”, we are the ones who are guilty of unfaithfulness, and we are the one’s running out the door rather than facing our Lover and working out the problem.
Yet, contrary to the message of Chris Isaak, the prophetic blues do not leave the listener without reason for hope. In the ever-changing, still-unfolding song of God there is no reason anyone should remain forever blue. Brighter days lie ahead.
As we leave the Old Testament and move into the New, we shall see that The Father’s Song, while filled with many ups and downs, has an hope-filled upward trajectory that the attentive ear will anticipate. The Father’s Song is a love song at it’s core, and as we shall soon see it ends not with a messy break-up but with a joyous wedding banquet and unending song of celebration.
But we must not get too far ahead of ourselves.