When I was growing up, every Sunday evening while we were eating barnbrack, mum put on ‘Sounds Sacred’ with Noel Batteye on Radio Ulster. I’m afraid to say that me and my three siblings always groaned at this – we were certainly not the target audience, as Noel oozed through dedications to 90 year old Elizabeth, or from 90 year old Elizabeth to her 60 year old and older children. Mum groaned too, when The Old Rugged Cross or Onward Christian Soldiers came on. She had a problem with loving a method of torture, and with marching as to war. But, there was one song that really got my goat, and that was From a Distance, sung by Bette Midler. The singing was pretty good, the tune fairly catchy, but the words, well, they were something else. Even as a young Christian I didn’t understand why God would be at a distance, or why everything would appear air-brushed to Him. Lines like
From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.
were baffling. But there are people in need, there are guns and bombs, there is disease. Why would someone write a song telling us that God is oblvious to suffering? I didn’t get any oblique meaning to that song then, and I still don’t now. ‘Sounds Sacred’? More like ‘Sounds wrong’. It’s not poor old Noel’s fault, but when you tear down the pleasant background to that song, what you hear is abandonment, and a picture of an apathetic God.
God is NOT watching from a distance. He has already got His hands so dirty it killed Him. He is the ever-present Father, the Friend who mourns, rejoices, lives right beside us. That is the hard Truth, standing when everything else falls. Put on a song about that, Batteye, and maybe I’ll tune in again.