Last night when I heard the song “Only a Man” by Jonny Lang for the first time, it resonated deeply with me. I started thinking through the theology behind it. What does he mean by “only a man”? I came to the conclusion that it is mostly solid, and let me explain why:
The first verse:
I used to live my life in fear, was worried all the time.
From waking up to laying down, I had no peace of mind.
The world became a darkened place, a struggle without end,
Oh, what bitter days those were — the days I began to understand,
I was only a man.
What is he saying (or singing) here? He does not say what he worries about — probably because from “waking up to laying down” worry and fear encompassed his whole life. Basically he seems to be lamenting a fundamental limitation of humanity — that he cannot control everything. Of course, this does not imply an inherent flaw in being “only a man”. Only that as “only a man”, he does not have ultimate control.
I grew up singing songs in church with questions in my mind,
then turned my back and ran away from God who gave me life.
Then one night his presence fell; I wept and shook and then,
I fell down and cried “Dear Jesus, rescue me again. I understand
I am only a man.”
I think this verse affirms three things. First, it acknowledges turning and running from God after a Christian upbringing. That is, he rebelled: he sinned. Second, he acknowledges the sovereign, affection-changing presence of God to bring him back. This is not intended as a Calvinism-Arminianism point per se — only that this verse affirms God’s work as what brought him back: that is a high view of God. Third, he acknowledges his inability to rescue himself. He throws himself on Jesus, understanding that, as “only a man”, he must lean upon the God who gave him life.
What will it be now? Will you choose me or keep swimming upstream now?
I’ve been inside your head, hearing you scream out.
Well here I am just take my hand and I’ll take out all of the pain and all of the fear.
Here I think the song might be a bit misfocused, or at least incomplete. Let me explain. The last line shows a Jesus who is a healer and comforter. Amen. However, it does not explicitly picture Jesus a forgiver. He is all of these, at the same time: healer, comforter, and forgiver. I would like to argue that forgiveness is implied in the the turning back to Jesus. I think that a case could be made for that. However, it does give powerful witness to the comfort and peace that Jesus provides. This helps me, and it helps me a lot. I can have the “screaming out” inside my head. But he there. And he brings peace.
The song ends with an interaction between the man and Jesus, as he has turned from running and fallen into the Savior’s arms.
I’ll give you my breath.
I’ll give you peace.
All of my desires.
I’ll give you what you need.
What about these chains lord?
I’ll set you free.
But they’re so heavy.
Lay them at my feet.
I’ll lay them at your feet. Just promise you won’t leave.
I’ll never leave.
So where do I go from here, Lord?
Just follow me. Just follow me.
I’ll follow you wherever you lead.
Overall, I think the song is a moving testimony to the comforting and healing power of our great savior. It emphasizes certain elements of the Gospel (comfort and subjective peace) and seems to imply the forgiveness aspect. There is a subtle danger in downplaying any part of the Gospel. But this song, more than that, is a comforting and wonderful testimony to the power of our Savior of peace. Like I said, it reminds me, powerfully, of the peace that Christ can (and should) bring to soul that tends, like me, to “Live my life in fear, worried all the time.”
I plan to listen to it often.