Back in high school I distinctly remember a friend of mine telling me that I needed to check out this band from the 90’s that changed rock and roll music forever. I also remember looking them up and listening to some of their music and instantly being drawn into to their hard edged, yet still harmonious rock and roll sound. Ladies and gentlemen I had discovered Nirvana, and I was hooked immediately! However, I then began doing some reading about them in Christian publications and I found out that Nirvana received almost exclusively negative press from these writers. They cited their music was ‘too negative’ and ‘overly nihilistic’ and therefore not suitable for listening by people who considered themselves Christ followers. They also cited the fact that lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide as a reason for steering clear of his band’s music. I decided that I first should look up what ‘nihilism’ was and then give Nirvana’s music another listen, because while I certainly heard the ‘negative’ side of Cobain’s lyrics, I also thought that there was certainly a lot of parts of books in the Bible like Psalms, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastics that could be called ‘negative’ as well.
First let me define ‘nihilism.’ Nihilism is the basic belief that life is meaningless, and thus there are no morals or values that can be lived by, because there is no absolute to dictate what those morals should be. It is extremely pessimistic and often leads people who follow in its belief towards suicide, much like Cobain. However, while this may sound extremely dark and depression (and it is!) Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer once pointed out in his 1968 masterpiece “The God Who Is There” that “nihilism is correctly realistic” in a sense that it understands that the world is ultimately hopeless on its own. However, nihilism fails because it refuses to acknowledge there is hope in Christ, who provides the source of Absolute truth that the nihilist says doesn’t exist. Nihilism though, as Schaeffer saw it in some ways made Evangelism easier in today’s society, because so many people in our society today are without hope and joy, and therefore our looking for any kind of hope in their lives. Enter the Christian who can give a message of hope that reassures such people that they are correct to feel hopeless in a world full of darkness, but that Jesus is the Light of the world who came to shatter that darkness and give them eternal life (John 3:16-21).
Which leads me back in a roundabout way to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s lyrics. There are some excellent lyrics splattered throughout their three albums, but right now I would like to focus on two specifically. The first is the song that became a huge hit for them when it burst onto the radio and MTV back in 1991, entitled ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This song featured lyrics that are rather obscure and little hard to understand, but ultimately in my view reflect a person crying out for recognition in a generation of people who’s mentality in life is to quote the song’s chorus “here we are now, entertain us!”
You see this is where people of my age range (20-30) find themselves. So many of us are looking for the next big high for entertainment. This is one of the reason’s that the Church today in America is trying to constantly make their worship services more ‘relevant’ to the culture by making the music louder and the lyrics to the worship songs strictly being of the ‘I’m so happy all the time because it’s so wonderful being a Christian” variety. Christian speaker and author Marva J. Dawn has written about this is detail in her 1994 masterpiece “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology Of Worship For This Urgent Time”
This mentality is many ways is ultimately what I believe, and Dawn has written, is killing the Church. While most people may on the surface have the ‘here we are now, entertain us’ belief that Cobain wrote about, I think most people once they are in a Church that is ‘dumbing down’ the Gospel for the sake of attendance figures, truly feel ‘stupid and contagious’ in some ways, to quote from the rest of the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” People know fakeness when they see it, and they much rather have you be real with them even if it is not entertaining. They don’t want to come to a Church where they ultimately leave feeling dumber than they were before, or worse that they were supposed to buy into this ‘happy all the time’ belief system and then be ‘contagious’ in a sense that they must catch the ‘happy bug’ and transmit it to others!
Christianity my friends, is far from this twisted presentation that unfortunately is present in our American church culture today. You see, there are plenty of verses and passages in the Bible that talk about pain and agony being a part of the Christian life. There were many Psalms in which David wrote about suffering and mourning (check out Psalm 55 for one example). There are also the Old Testament books of Ecclesiastes and Lamentations that speak of sorrow being a part of the life. Jesus himself lived a life that was well acquainted with suffering (Isaiah 53:3) and He also openly grieved when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:33-36). He also suffered agonizing pain in His death, but was then raised again to demonstrate His dominion over death and the sin that leads us down the path of death and destruction!
Which leads me to the second Nirvana song I would like to discuss in this blog. The song “Come As You Are” has always been one of Cobain’s finest songwriting moments in my view. The song is written from a man to a woman telling her that he wants her to simply ‘come as you are…as a friend.’ This is simply how the Lord wants us to be when we seek Him in worship. Jesus told us to ‘Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). He knows about all of our sin and pain that we are carrying with us, and he wants us to bring all that to Him and lay it down so He can take it all and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). You see He doesn’t call us servants but He has indeed called us friends (John 15:15) and we who believe in Him for redemption of our sins are now given the rite to be called Children of God (1 John 3:1).
That message of love that Cobain wrote so well in “Come As You Are” truly reflects the heart of God in my opinion. In many ways since the Church is considered the Bride of Christ, it makes sense that a love song written by a man for a woman could contain eternal Truths, and many love songs do this well, but this specific song has always communicated this better than most in my view, and it is ultimately a great way to show God’s heart for a world that grows more and more desperate for some kind of meaning and hope everyday!