During my growing up years, my parents never allowed me to listen to “worldly” music. When I caught strains of songs like, “Happy Xmas, the War is Over” and “Imagine,” at the mall or in the grocery store, I was mesmerized by Lennon’s genius words and music about people and love. To this people loving girl, it sounded a lot like heaven.
Music has such a profound effect on our lives. Most parents in my youth tried to stop their kids from listening to music because of hate–hate toward feminists, hate toward Catholics, hate toward gays, hate toward atheists and humanists and basically anyone who didn’t fit their worldviews.
I’ve learned a song doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” to have a spiritual meaning. Christian is just a word, but it is the Spirit inside of us who determines what we see and how we interpret the words, tunes, and rhythm.
I’ve decided to deconstruct the lyrics of Imagine. It wasn’t until one of my favorite groups Pentatonix recorded it that I took the time to really listen to the words and what they mean. As someone who was raised to think of this as a bad humanistic song, I was surprised to discover it’s all about how we choose to interpret the meaning of the lyrics.
I’ll break it down for you because in this age of hate, lies, and abuse put out by religious people who claim to be going to heaven, perhaps it’s a good idea to reframe and make these lyrics our own.
“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
This is the mouthful of music that has incited a thousand self-righteous Christians and yet when we consider all the damage religion has done in this world, these lyrics are profound because they challenge the mindset of people who are so confident in going to heaven, that they don’t mind destroying the earth–cause well God’s going to make it new anyway. But can such an attitude honor God? It’s still his handwork people are destroying. In the name of heaven should we decimate the earth and everyone in it? It reminds me of the saying, “So heavenly minded, but of no earthly good.” A pretty sad state of affairs.
I don’t believe the Bible teaches an ever burning in hell, so this part of the lyrics just reminds me that the early Christians didn’t believe in hell either. They didn’t scare people into the kingdom like we often witness people doing today. They loved people to God (more on this on another verse).
“Imagine all the people living for today.”
Jesus Himself tells us to live for today. He says don’t worry about tomorrow.
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace”
Since 911, we have seen the rise of nationalism in the US. People worship the flag and the ten commandments–sometimes more than the hand who wrote the law on stone and sets us free. Maybe they’ve forgotten that if Jesus lifted an earthly flag it would probably be a white flag, because He said his kingdom was not on this earth or his disciples would fight for him. Jesus didn’t send drone or bombs to get revenge, he eventually allowed his enemies to beat him and kill him. I’m not saying we should all bow over and let the terrorists win, I’m just saying we have better ways to deal with evil than to retaliate and kill more innocent people.
If we could realize this fantasy of no countries, it could end dualistic and the “us vs. them” tribalism that comes with it. This would end all wars and there would be nothing to kill or die for. In a sense, this verse is quite ironic after what is written in the first because it would actually create a heaven on earth.
“And no religion too.”
For many super protective Christian parents, these words are the blasphemy at the heart of the song, but that’s only because they choose to see it that way. Religion has launched thousands of bombs and killed millions throughout history. Religion, void of God’s Spirit is lethal. So if humanists ask me to throw out what some call religion, it won’t affect or change my personal relationship with Jesus.
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world”
This is the heart of the gospel. We don’t need to use the misused term religion to see this is what Jesus taught. This is how the early church lived. They gave up their possessions to spread the Good News. In such a heaven-like world there would be no greed or hunger. This is the true brotherhood of man Jesus dreamed for all of us when He said, “Love your enemies. They will know you are my friends if you love each other.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
When we listen to the stories and teachings of Jesus, we realize Jesus was the original dreamer and John Lennon’s humanistic lyrics simply echo a heart cry for the true kingdom of God. Imagine there’s no haters. What a wonderful world to live in. No more narcissism or selfishness–only acceptance and love.
I believe Jesus prayed a prayer for all of us–regardless of human labels because it was Jesus who created humanity. Jesus was the ultimate humanitarian and he prayed to the Father that we would all be one–just as he and the Father are one.
You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one–and what those Christians who shun this song as mere humanism have missed, is that Jesus dreamed this first.