Chester Bennington and Your Great Heavy

I’m really sad about Chester Bennington. Really sad.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Linkin Park. That was true for me even before the latest news hit about his death. If that surprises you, don’t let it. Chester’s legacy here is deeply, deeply spiritual. Make no mistake about it. It’s spiritual. I would even argue that that’s why he connected so profoundly with so many people because he was giving true artistic voice to what so many of us feel.

A screenshot of the texting thread with my twin

A screenshot of the texting thread with my twin

How true is that? Well – just listen to what Linkin Park actually sings. They’re amazingly blunt and raw about their inner condition. Check out the song Heavy from their 2017 album and you’ll see what I mean. Other albums are similarly revealing. I remember being on a run in early July when my twin reintroduced me to another one of their songs called What I’ve Done. So tragic. So sad. Listen to it if you haven’t. There’s this voice in there crying out with immense pain – this voice that gives a graphic depiction of the human condition, one of failure and lie. And those are just two of his songs. Check out the rest of his canon of work too. It’s amazingly spiritual.

But that shouldn’t surprise us.

We are spiritual beings. And our greatest pain is the one Chester so often names: seeing our failures.

And what I think may be the most painful part of that condition is that we just can’t seem to escape it. It’d be one thing if there was a way to redeem ourselves. To finally get our entire act together. To finally arrive at a spiritual state that we know is satisfactory to ourselves and to others and to God, but then there it always is again: failure.

You know what really made me think about the inner pain that kind of realization produces? Romans 3:23. It’s hard to see it in English, but if you read the verse in Greek it’s a stunner. All have sinned (past tense) and are failing (present tense) God’s glory. We’re never done with that. That's what's so painful to see. Not just that we have failed, but that we are. Not just that we have messed up, but that we are. We all know it. Or, at the very least, Chester did.

And that’s our gravest human threat. I don’t care if you’re a tough army guy or a little old lady who knits or a teenager who plays baseball or a young woman in her twenties. That’s our gravest human threat. Because we know it means we shouldn’t be loved or approved of. Not by other people and certainly not by God. That’s the conclusion Linkin Park came to. There’s only deserving self-erasure for it all.

“In this farewell there no blood, there’s no alibi ‘cause I’ve drawn regret from the truth of a thousand lies so let mercy come and wash away what I’ve done. I’ll face myself to cross out what I’ve become. Erase myself and let go of what I’ve done.”

So I write. I write today for the inner you that might understand that at an all too visceral level. I write today so that that inner you might not come to the same conclusion the band did. So you know.

You need to know that who you are and what you’ve done has, in fact, already been faced. That a self-erasure has, in fact, already happened on your account. That that reality is, in fact, the Christian gospel. A man named Jesus on a Roman cross was erased for the truth of a thousand lies. A Christ was sent just so that mercy could come. That’s why I write so you know that mercy has now come to us all, “freely by his grace.” Romans 3:24

Or perhaps I could reframe the Christian gospel using Chester’s poignant vocabulary and phrasing like this: Jesus faced what you’ve done and crossed (See that little word cross in there?) out what you’ve become.

I just have to tell you that because here's the truth: I know how real and how wide-spread Chester’s feelings are – if we’ll take the time to look inside. And I feel I do know that. And it’s not just because Linkin Park was such a commercial success and became such an important cultural voice for so long either. It’s because I’ve had the chance now for almost a decade to love and talk to people in the most spiritual vocation on earth. It’s because I’m a pastor. (On a side note: pastors aren’t at all like the caricature my generation grew up seeing on The Simpsons. The pastors I know are the most insightful spiritual people on earth. Talk to one about what matters to you and you'll see what I mean. I even suggest you try this one who's writing if you're in the area.) 

And so this is what I know: Some of you have people in your lives who are always tearing you down and pointing out very real failures. Some of you have secrets that are tearing at the fabric your heart. Some of you have a past that you’re worried God can never, ever forgive. Some of you just plain wish you were a better person – someone who’s made better decisions or was a better mother or friend or husband or fill-in-your-own-blank, but all of you see in yourselves that you’re not quite right and so you’re threatened.

And that’s why I write. I want you to know that the historical reality of Christ’s death means that despite everything you know about your condition you still get to have all the love and approval you need. You really do. By his death, Jesus ruled out every rule or standard or secret or sin or person that threatens to show how you're failing in who you need to be. They don't get to do that anymore. And do you know who I think needs to read that and take that to heart the most? You do. If I know people (I’m arguing I do to some degree.), your self-condemnations are the most vicious assaults you experience. Jesus means you don’t get to do that anymore. Here's why:

Only God gets to make an evaluation of you that is meant to stick and he has in Jesus. The verdict? You are forgiven.

Let that sink in and I think you’ll feel light. For the record, I chose that word on purpose. I chose it for those who like me often feel Chester’s inner pain – what he has called, “heavy.” There truly is erasure, cleansing, and absolution for everything that you are. Don’t take my word for it though. Take Jesus’ word for it. After all, as gorgeous as some of Chester’s sung metaphors were, that particular metaphor of spiritual heaviness came from a greater genius, Jesus. Jesus, the one who used that exact metaphor to tell those of us who so often feel heavy that he is the one place where we can be – not just feel! – light (Matthew 11:30).

Here's a much more involved take on the same topic.

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