I had no idea last Sunday that I’d be writing on the Red Hot Chili Peppers four days after they performed at the Super Bowl halftime show. However, a controversy has erupted in the days after the game: it turns out the band didn’t plug in their instruments before “performing” at halftime. They have been widely criticized for “faking” their music on the world’s biggest stage.
Now we get the rest of the story: they had no choice. As their bass player later explained, the NFL required that the bass, drums, and guitar be pre-recorded. The vocals were live, but the league worried about winter weather affecting the instruments and didn’t want sound problems. So the band recorded the instrumentals specifically for the concert, then had a choice to make. They could plug in their instruments so that no one would know they were not playing live, or they could play them unplugged so as not to pretend. They chose the latter, which the bass player called “the realest thing to do in the circumstance.”
Before I saw his explanation, I was a critic. Now I’m impressed.
Philip Yancey’s latest book, The Question That Never Goes Away, responds profoundly to the perennial issue of evil and suffering. Consider his definition of faith: “believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” As with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ performance, so with much of life—what we learn tomorrow makes better sense of today.
One fact we learn when we look back on suffering is that God suffered with us. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is in the Bible to show us that God hurts as we hurt, that we never suffer alone. We may not detect his presence at the time, but one day we will see ways he sustained us.
Knowing that he is with us in our darkest hours, that “he will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6), helps us hold on for one more day. According to Yancey, a university researcher once recruited volunteers to see how long they could keep their feet in buckets of ice water. The scientist learned that when a companion was in the room, the volunteer could endure cold twice as long as when he or she suffered alone.
Why does God not give us help before we need it? Yancey quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred German theologian: “I believe that God will give us in each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on Him alone.”
I was recently writing at my desk on a cloudy morning. The sun was barely visible in the overcast sky. I found that I could look at it, if only for a brief moment, in a way I could not on a clear day. The clouds enabled me to see the sun more clearly.
What clouds might reveal the Son to you today?