Posted by Gary on March 26, 2009
For the past few months I have been listening to Bob Dylan’s Christian music and have been greatly helped by it (“I Believe In You” from Slow Train Coming has become a song that says it all for me-I don’t seem to tire of listening to it). I cannot help but think (as I know many others do) about where Dylan stands in regard to Christ. I don’t take discussing someone else’s standing before God lightly. While some might think it wrong to speculate and write publicly about the potential salvation or damnation of another I think in some way Dylan is up for this himself.
I’ve watched a number of Dylan interviews and there is no doubt that he likes to keep us at a distance and even more, guessing about where he is spiritually. At one time Bob did speak very plainly about his beliefs (through his Christian music and testifying during his concerts-see the embed above). Dylan’s pointed gospel music and pointed public statements allow some place to conjecture about where he is. Though we have never met, my thoughts flow from a genuine concern for Bob Dylan and a desire to see him finish his days declaring the gospel and writing songs for Jesus Christ.
In the course of my listening I came across a song of Dylan’s from his “Time Out of Mind” album called, “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.” While Time Out of Mind is not a gospel album something is being said through “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and I have thought about it much.
First of all, let’s take Dylan at the simple meaning of his words, he’s trying to get to heaven. This would imply first a belief in the existence of heaven and without much assumption Dylan must believe it is not going to be entered by everyone, hence his effort, he is “trying’” to get there.
The initial lines would seem to indicate that Dylan thinks that the time is getting close when the question of whether or not he is going to get to heaven will be answered.
The air is getting hotter, there’s a rumblin’ in the skies
I’ve been wading through the high muddy water
With the heat risin’ in my eyes
This next phrase has been much on my mind as I think of Dylan. I am assuming that if Dylan is thinking about heaven, he must also be thinking about the God who inhabits heaven and determines who will enter heaven. Here Dylan’s former statements both in music and even what some called preaching in his concerts would remind us that Dylan claimed at one time to know Christ and that he was “Saved” (A great song from the album titled, “Saved”-check out the lyrics here). Here is my question, who is Dylan talking about when he says this?
Every day your memory grows dimmer
It doesn’t haunt me like it did before
I have wondered if Dylan is speaking about Christ here. Why might I think this? Quite simply because one does not come to the place of such commitment and public declaration about Jesus Christ as Dylan did at one time only to revert back to cryptic statements that leave one uncertain about a person’s relationship with Christ. As a disciple of Christ there is no stationary position, one either moves forward or is falling back and when you listen to the things Dylan was saying about Christ during his gospel era and listen now, it is obvious something has happened. Perhaps some will not understand this. In fact, unless you have been born again you cannot understand this. You don’t come to the place of bearing public scorn and persecution for Christ and then revert back to near silence and loss of evangelical zeal without something having gone wrong spiritually.
I remember very clearly meeting a man while in Bible college as I walked around a lake at a park near my college campus. He was fishing and as I approached him I hoped to witness to him about Christ. After just a few minutes he said, “You’re trying to witness to me aren’t you?” I admitted I was.
This man went on to tell me how close he had been to Christ at one time but had somehow gotten away from Him. I will always remember him saying, "If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be away from Christ and straying like I am I would never have believed it possible.” This man went on to say that he knew that he needed to get back to Christ but then admitted that he was not willing to just then.
What happens when we get away from Christ and stay away? His memory grows dimmer. We don’t hear His voice the next day as clearly as we did the day before. Refusal to draw near to Jesus results in an increasing hardness of heart. While we at one point might have been alarmed by what was happening to us, refusal to get right hardens the heart. For a time a person will be “haunted” by Christ’s absence but with time we are not haunted anymore. Christ is gone and we don’t care. Am I saying that this has happened to Bob Dylan? I am saying I wonder.
During my first listening to “Tryin’” this line stood out dramatically:
“You broke a heart that loved you”
Wow. If these lines pertain to Bob Dylan and Christ and I do wonder if they might, what a sad thing and how greatly truth needs to be applied to the heart. There was something happening during the late 70’s and early 80’s with Bob Dylan. The songs he wrote about Christ were powerful, watch “What Can I Do For You?” Do we find songs like this coming out of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM)? As you watch ask yourself if this is just a mere performer doing his stint for the night. I think not. I am not a Dylan expert but I believe his most powerful singing came while he sang during this era.
The accusation that Christ has broken someone’s heart…I have witnessed this a number of times in the course of my journey. Someone comes alive to Christ and has great zeal for Him only a short time later to lose this zeal. Often the claim from the person is that Christ deserted them. This of course cannot be for He has promised never to leave or forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5). Such people end up very disillusioned, they feel Christ let them down, or “broke their hearts”. Somehow such people believe that they are more faithful in their love to Jesus than He is to them. Very often what has happened in someone is as the Savior describes:
Matthew 13:20-21 "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and
when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
Jesus never takes His love from His people. If something happens in the relationship it must be our heart toward His. Of course we hardly ever think we are the ones who are to blame even to the point of blaming God. Again, this cannot be, for God’s love for His people is everlasting:
Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love;”
Why else do I think “Tryin to Get to Heaven” might be about Dylan and Christ? Because of these lines:
Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore. I’ve been walkin’ that lonesome valley. Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.
Seal up the book? Sounds like very Biblical phraseology doesn’t it? The Bible tells us again and again that God has a book, actually books:
Exodus 32:33 “The Lord said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”
Psalm 56:8 “You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”
Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
Revelation 3:5 “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”
God’s books being most likely scrolls have a seal or seals on them signifying the completion of the document so that nothing can be added to or taken from what has been written:
Revelation 5:1-2 “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"
There are many things that we should not and by grace must never say to God. At the top of this list must be a statement like, “Seal up the book and don’t write anymore”. Could we ever want God to be done with us? To tell Him to stop being a part of our life and essentially to depart from us? God is literally not just emotionally the source of our life. We live because of Him and without Him we have not life no matter how much glitter and paint we may paint upon our existence.
I am sure some will think it strange that I have gone to such length in my thinking about Bob Dylan and where he stands with Christ. I don’t think I am alone. My previous post on Dylan’s Christian music has risen almost to the top of the list of my most read posts on my Blog. The searches that bring people to my Blog often include “Dylan” and “Christian”.
I have no greater fear than to end up away from Christ. I think this concern makes me mindful and diagnostic with others. If I am wrong about my interpretation of “Trying to Get to Heaven” I would be very glad. But again, there is no reverting backward from where Dylan was. To know Christ and be with Him is to declare Him, to make Him known. Something has happened here that is not good.
Earlier I mentioned the man I met as I walked who had gotten away from Christ. Perhaps more than anything I remember him saying to me as he mentioned his former closeness with Christ and then his sad condition, he said, “Don’t think it can’t happen to you.”
Lord, keep us close to you. Give us the grace to remain in your love…
Jude 1:21 “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”
Matthew 24:12-13 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
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