All my life I have been wooed by a song. Okay—not quite ALL my life considering that it came out two years after my birth, but you get the idea.
It entered my young ears via a stereo masquerading as a piece of furniture roughly the size and shape of a credenza. My father built it and began amassing his record collection (which, as I recall, consisted mainly of pipe organ music and big band favorites) long before I came along. Somehow, tucked among these more noble selections, stood a lone wolf. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were apparently all the rage in 1968 and they recorded a song that will forever stand in my heart as a favorite, even though I am embarrassed by this confession.
I heard it not just on Daddy’s behemoth stereo, but over the radio, on television, in grocery stores over the loudspeakers as we meandered the aisles, sneaking things into mom's cart that she would later remove with frazzled disgust. This song was everywhere and became part of the soundtrack of my childhood.
Honestly, it wasn't the words that affected me. I barely knew it HAD words. The thing about this song was the music. I don't know why it got me then, but it's the same thing that gets me to this day. I want to close my eyes and sway. I feel like crying and then laughing while I'm still crying. It makes me feel comfortable and warm and at the same time lonely and sad, but the kind of lonely and sad that are filled with longing.
When I stopped and finally paid attention to the lyrics, it nearly ruined the magic.
They are the heart of a man as he confesses his love for a woman and his desire for that love be returned, but this is no Shakespearean sonnet. Oh, dear. It's SO not.
“You see this guy? This guy’s in love with you. Yes, I’m in love. Who looks at you the way I do?” and so on. No great poetry here, no subtle language, no panache. I don't think I'm being a snob about this, because I actually like it when a simple idea is conveyed simply. It’s just the LAST LINE.
That last line nauseates me.
“Say you're in love, in love with this guy. If not I'll just die.”
Pathetic. Melodramatic. Hammy.
This is why I blush that it still has the power to move me. The music pierces my heart despite the sloppy sentiment that is its partner. I don’t own the song, I never have owned it, but I relish hearing it when it plays. And I speak openly of my fondness for it, but always with the disclaimer “It’s the music. Just the music.”
Today I am rethinking my disclaimer.
I lay stretched out in my recliner this afternoon, scanning Netflix for a movie to be the soundtrack for my Sunday afternoon nap. I came upon one about the impending destruction of Earth by an asteroid and what people would do with their last days. Being as I am a sucker for disaster movies, my nap plans were scrapped. In a scene late in the movie, I realized my song was playing quietly in the background and I smiled as I always do when it sneaks up on me. I also may have closed my eyes and I may have been humming along. But what happened when it began playing at full volume at the close of the movie KNOCKED. ME. FLAT.
I began to weep. Believe me, this was not a tears-in-my-eyes, happy-sad little sniffling episode—no. This was a snot-flinging “I’m crying so hard I can no longer breathe with my mouth closed and my face will be swollen and blotchy for hours” kind of crying.
And SURPRISE! It wasn’t the music this time. It was the words.
I try to be cautious when I explain the gospel of Jesus Christ as a love story because it gets a little dicey due to the typically sexual nature of love in our world. We often can’t pull the notion of love apart from sexuality and we get weirded-out by the thought of God romancing us, even though that’s the metaphor of the Song of Solomon, right there smack dab in the middle of His book.
And honestly, the gospel IS a love story and it looks a lot like the words Hal David wrote.
“You see this guy, this guy's in love with you
Yes I'm in love, who looks at you the way I do
When you smile, I can tell we know each other very well
How can, I show you, I'm glad I got to know you
'Cause I've heard some talk, they say you think I'm fine
This guy's in love, and what I'd do to make you mine
Tell me now, is it so, don't let me be the last to know
My hands are shaking, don't let my heart keep breaking
'Cause I need your love
I want your love
Say you're in love, in love with this guy”
God makes Adam and Eve and loves them and woos them with beauty and bounty but he can’t make them return His love because forced love is not real. And they say, “Nah. Thanks anyway.” And He backs off and the world goes to pot because that’s just what naturally happens when God backs off.
He tries again with Abraham and promises to love the world through him and through his family. And so begins a tumultuous affair in which God's miracles are exciting, but fail to keep Israel faithful, and His promises don’t keep her from breaking hers, and His blessings become boring and commonplace. Nothing He does is enough to tame Israel’s wandering lust for other loves.
And God throws up His shaking hands and His breaking heart and says it.
The Most. Pathetic. Thing. Ever.
“If not I'll just die.” Ridiculous.
Why in the world would an all powerful being feel this way about something He could unmake in a moment with one angry thought? And how could He punish us for not loving Him? “If you love something, set it free” and all that, right? Why can’t he just open the door, let us go and hope for the best without resorting to punishing anyone for their choice? These are fair questions.
My personal short answer comes straight from 1 John 5:12: "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." I believe that God is life. And if God is life, and if we decide to divorce ourselves from God, then we also divorce ourselves from life. The end.
Only not the end. The story goes on to say that He loved us so much that He decided if death was inevitable, HE would be the one to die.
God sang “If not I'll just die” and then He did it. Not to end His love-stricken misery and ease His own troubled heart, but to end once-and-for-all the niggling idea we have suspected all along and therefore feel compelled to prove over and over: we are not good enough for Him. It’s true, we’re not, but he He made it a moot point. We’re not good enough, so how about we let Him be good enough for the both of us?
This is simplistic, I know. I know there is a world of theology that I am shamelessy glossing over.
But I also know this: that Jesus took a moment out of His busy day to bend down and hum a tune in my ear simply because He knows it gets me every time and He gets a charge out of me getting a charge. And today He whispered the same words that this 50 year old spinster has heard a thousand times before but He infused them with something that made them real and meaningful and no longer pathetic. “You see this guy? THIS guy's in love with you.” And I am leveled again as I have been leveled so many times by Him.
And just like I can’t really explain what it is about this sappy song that makes me feel so much “something,” I also can’t explain why I believe the Love Story that is the Bible is truer than the truest thing that could ever be true. So call me pathetic. Call me melodramatic and hammy. I don’t really care. Because you see this guy? This guy’s in love with me and it’s not a delusion and it’s not a consolation prize. His love for me, His wild, outrageous, pathetic love for me, is the thing that makes me not only good enough, but seriously, awesomely great.
“This Guy’s in Love” by songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Published by NEW HIDDEN VALLEY MUSIC CO.; CASA DAVID