I've recently been enjoying rediscovering an old hit by The Verve Pipe called The Freshmen. I remember liking the song when I was younger but I don't think I ever really caught the lyrics. As I've been listening to it more this time around I think it really presents a vivid picture of the experience of guilt.
According to the band website FAQ and an interview with lead singer Brian Vander Ark this song is about the guilt Vander Ark experienced when his ex-girlfriend had an abortion. Though the song also tells the story of a suicide, Vander Ark suggested this was poetic license. The first verse goes:
"When I was young I knew everything
She a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I'm guilt stricken,
Sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice"
The last line is a reference to the abortion and potential marriage that never happened. Right from the beginning of the song we see the theme develop: at a younger age he thought he knew what he was doing, and now he's stuck with the guilt of his/his ex's actions. In some sense the whole human race is like this. When the human race was young in the form of Adam, we thought we knew everything and chose to disobey God (cf. Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12-19). Now each of us is born guilty as a result. Not only that, but we experience this guilt in our lives as well.
The Bible testifies that we are all born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), foolish (Pr. 22:15, 29:15), and in sin (Ps. 51:5). Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). There is a way that seems right to us, but in the end it leads to death (Pr. 14:12). Therefore Paul instructs us to flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22). As far as I can tell from what I've read of Vander Ark, he is not a Christian. Yet it seems he has described in this song exactly what the Bible teaches is true of man: in our pride we think we can determine what's best apart from God, but it only leads to death. Vander Ark further shares in the chorus:
"for the life of me, I could not believe we'd ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen."
When making the choices he made, he could not believe his actions would have real consquences. He could not imagine the way he was choosing could lead to death. He was a foolish kid. Now he finds himself guilt-stricken and sobbing with his head on the floor. I've experienced this so many times in my life. Throughout my life there have been a number of instances where I sinned in ways that had significant consequences. When deciding to engage in these actions I never felt like they would be that big of a deal, but afterwards I often felt this same guilt that Vander Ark discusses. I don't think Vander Ark and I are alone either. Especially poignant in the Bible is the example of David:
"Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your a steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" - Psalm 25:7
What David expresses here is essentially the need of my heart and of Vander Ark's, even if Vander Ark doesn't express it in a prayer to God. We now feel the guilt of our sins and we want to be free from it! So how do we deal with it? Vander Ark in the bridge:
"I can't be held responsible
She was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place"
We try to convince ourselves its not our fault. We try to find some way to rationalize what happened. We try to keep telling ourselves we won't be held responsible. We try to blame shift (Gen. 3:12). But that doesn't really work does it? I can almost sense as I listen to this song that Vander Ark is yelling this at himself because even he knows it's not the case. It's as if he wishes it were true but he knows it is not. Our sin is our fault. Another way we try to deal with it, verse 3 from Vander Ark:
"We've tried to wash our hands of all this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we're guilt stricken sobbing with our
Heads on the floor"
We try to wash our hands of it, we try not to talk about it. We simply try to avoid and hide the guilt and shame we feel. And yet the result is the same: we're guilt stricken and sobbing with our heads on the floor. We waste away hiding our sin (Ps. 32:3-4). This is basically how the song ends. It presents a vivid depiction of the feeling of guilt and the unsatisfying ways in which we try to deal with it. The picture of guilt it presents and our attitudes in it have significant overlap with what the Bible says is true about man and what we experience. Then the song ends. But the story of the Bible does not end there. What hope do we have? What is the answer to the heart need for forgiveness and freedom from guilt expressed by Brian, David, and myself?
"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." - Heb. 9:14 (emphasis mine)
The only hope we have is for someone else to bare that guilt and condemnation in our place. How amazing is the love of God, that when He heard the guilty cry of humanity He did not sit back in heaven waiting for us to fix it, but instead took the iniatitive to enter into our mess and bare the guilt of it Himself by dying on the cross and being numbered among the transgressors. Trying to convince ourselves we won't be held responsible or simply avoiding the issue won't purify our consciences: only the blood of Christ can do that. If we've placed our faith in Christ and His sacrifie we no longer need to avoid our sin but can freely confess it in full confidence of God's forgiveness (Ps. 32:5).
I love this song. It is so true to our shared experience as sinful humans. I love Vander Ark's honesty and vulnerability to pour out his heart in this song. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is SO MUCH BETTER!!! Would you join me in praying that Brian and others whose hearts feels the same things his does in this song would take refuge in Christ and have their consciences truly purified?