An Essay on Authenticity: Is True Humanity Sinful or Holy?

I recently read a nicely-written Christianity Today profile of a musician named Jason Harrod. Jonathan Fitzgerald, a gifted young evangelical writer, penned the piece.

Harrod is a faith-expressing musician, but he makes clear in his lyrics and remarks that his is an up-and-down spirituality. See the following:

On “One of These Days,” Harrod promises to “get it right,” but then counters, “until then I want to get so gone, I want to be so wrong, I want to see what damage I can do.” He refers to himself as a “bitter old batch” and “a filthy old rat” who is “sinking down to a deep dark place.” Still, he invites the listener along: “I’m thinking when I’m sinking I don’t want to sink alone.”

Read the whole profile. Here as well is a song of Harrod’s that I found and immediately cottoned to.

This discussion of struggling-but-alive faith made me think. I’ve just encountered Harrod, so I’m not engaging directly with him, but only indirectly. I’ve been pondering Christian artists and musicians. This subgroup is sometimes known for its Kierkegaardian wrestling with the mysteries of life, the hard experiences of the believer’s walk. I resonate with that. I’ve made a rap cd that probed, as only a 22-year-old mind can, some of these questions and issues.

I do wonder, though, if we can end up thinking that the kind of “struggling Christian artist” is more “authentic” than, say, a musician who does not express as much doubt. Younger evangelicals, it seems to me, equate “authenticity” and “honesty” with brokenness and fallenness. Christians who are truly genuine, in other words, are those who are up, and then down, and then somewhere in the middle, and then down again. Their music reflects this turbulent experience, and young, artistically-minded evangelicals consider them to be more honest than performers who aren’t as roiled by life.

This is a tricky matter. At base, there is mystery coded into our existence. We are not God, at base. Even as redeemed people, we do not know as he knows. We never will, in fact–that is, we’ll never become God. We also struggle as fallen creatures to handle, let alone comprehend, the lived reality of a sin-cursed world. Terrible things happen here. If we make neat and shiny music, we can obscure that truth in a way the Bible doesn’t (try out the book of Judges, for example).

But we’ve got to also say that true humanity is not fallen, but is Christlike. Christ was perfect. He committed no sin. He surely cursed the darkness; reading the account of Lazarus’s death and resurrection in John 11 shows us that Jesus knew a vibrantly emotional existence. He experienced the full range of human emotions. He was not a Divine Sphinx Who Successfully Avoided All Show of Emotion. He wept; he got mad; he rebuked his disciples; he felt the Father turn away from him. Surely he was truly human.

Let’s not miss, though, that he also knew tremendous joy and fulfillment in doing the will of the Father (John 6:38; Hebrews 12:2). He taught truth, and expected people to stake their lives on it, to leave the very work of their hands at the moment of his coming. He triumphed over sin and never gave in to temptation (Hebrews 4:15), though he felt its pull just as we do. He was happy and joyful in obeying the Father.

What’s the point here? We need to take into account the godliness, the discipline, the sustained obedience of Christ. By the power of the Spirit, we are called to live as he did (John 14:16). We are being most “authentic” and “genuine” not when we’re doubting God, or denying the existence of truth, or morally compromising, or telling someone off when we’re angry, but when we’re following Christ, following him even through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s authenticity. That’s genuineness.

Being sinful and fallen is a part of being human, yes. But it is not true humanity. Sin makes us sub-human, not truly human. It denigrates and degrades us. Grace that creates obedience, by contrast, elevates and purifies us. It leads us toward who we will be in the age to come. In the new heavens and new earth, after all, we will be what we were made to be. We will be truly human. But sin and immorality and doubt will no longer tug at us. Those elements of this cursed world that compromised God’s moral will for our lives will be banished.

In sum: I fully believe in music made by believers that expresses the full range of the human experience. In fact, I like it a great deal better than shiny, happy music that acts as if children don’t die and despair doesn’t exist. But I wonder if it’s possible that in a reaction against “neat and clean” music, many of us younger evangelicals have embraced a theology of humanity–an anthropology–that loses sight of Christ, the true human, and all that his unblemished obedience entails.

We are not waiting, after all, for redemption to seep into our bones. It already has. We have been redeemed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We are not yet perfected, but we are a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Our lives, and our music, should reflect this truth, and should condition how we view true humanity. It is in the image of the Son of God, not our own likeness.


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