Word Four / 2014 / Better Cold Steel / Dusti Jensen, Bryan Norton, Steve Whitby

When it comes to the songs on this album, one of these things is not like the other ones. The other songs are centered around the sacred work Jesus did on the cross so that we appreciate it, refocus our eyes on it, and center our hearts and minds on how to be nearer to him. But what is it like to turn our hearts off? What is it like if Jesus isn’t Jesus to us? Instead of exploring our way to a new level of depth with Jesus, this song actually explores our way into not caring.

In the spring of 2014, Steve asked me not to write anything as Tenebrae prep time was nearing until he could give me his prompt for Word 4. “No problem!” I thought. Then, I heard his prompt and while it, sadly, wasn’t hard to write, it certainly felt harsh. His prompt went something like this: “I wonder what it would look like for you to write the lyrics from the perspective of a Roman guard showing up for a normal day of work, so really all he wants is for Jesus to hurry up and die so that he can make it home in time for dinner.” The Scripture for Word 4 is Mark 15:33-34: And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, elo-i, lama sabach- thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

I read the Scripture over and over again and pictured a guard, cold as steel, emotionless, distracted by jokes from people in the crowd, witnessing but not stopping their taunts. I pictured him bored and occasionally dozing while waiting in the quiet lulls in the afternoon. And he’s constantly checking the sun to know what time it is, thinking his staring at it could hurry it, and Jesus’ death, along. I pictured him completely still as he worked, numb to Jesus as he cried out because really, every man cries out when he’s crucified. Maybe he was even slightly excited when Jesus screamed because it could mark his death, and almost the end of his work day. 

Then I wrote these harsh lyrics from thoughts that could be in his head, and they still leave me cold. The thought of Jesus being guilty. The thought of being confused by or not caring why this man caused such a ruckus. The thought of disregarding what he was saying as true. The thought of crucifying him to be justice served. The thought that Jesus dying is my “to-do” for the day, and what I really want is a warm meal with my wife and kids before bedtime. The thought that staying alive without Jesus is what matters most. The thought that my day would be easier when he’s no longer in it. The thought that the work of the cross doesn’t matter. The thought that, for the sake of a paycheck, I choose to turn my heart off every day. 

All of these thoughts are harsh. But, the harsher thought to me was and still is, how is my behavior different from the guard? I am guilty of minimizing who Jesus is, what he did, his words, his presence… I am guilty of pushing him aside because he feels in the way of keeping my day simple… I am guilty of choosing not to speak about him so that I am still liked by the people I am around. So even though I believe different from the guard in my heart, I still turn my heart off too. Don’t we all? 

Don’t we choose the easier path of conforming to save ourselves some trouble? Don’t we get distracted and lazy, and don’t we knowingly ignore what we believe God wants us to do for whatever temporary benefit it seems like we’ll get? During the time of the crucifixion, think about how bold the people believing in and standing up for Jesus against the government were! And here we are, believing in Jesus, yet choosing the path of least resistance some days. We try to survive the work day, cross those t’s and dot those i’s, so we can get our paychecks to buy our things. We respond to people with carefully crafted answers designed to avoid the real problem and definitely so that we don’t offend anyone, just in case they believe differently than us. And in the end, maybe all we want to do is hurry up so we can make it home to Netflix, a glass of wine, and our warm beds. Sounds about like the level of invested that guard was…

What if we viewed each day as an opportunity to be bold and distinguish ourselves from being like that guard? What if we woke up and prayed that we would not be passive to the things that matter most to God’s heart? What if we asked for courage to act out of God’s values and not our own? What if we were truly present and instead of waiting for what’s next that may be better or easier, we owned that the moment we’re in is where God has us, so is, therefore, the most important? What if we lived like what we believe every day? What if we chose to turn our hearts back on every single day? 

This song doesn’t tie everything up with a nice, neat, perfect little bow. It truly just paints the picture of a guard, cold as steel, that doesn’t care about being washed in Jesus’ blood. In my experience, life rarely ever gets wrapped up in a bow, so I’m not going to do that here either. I simply want to just present you with this guard and hope you don’t want to be like him. 

It’s up to you, what you do with your heart. 

Lyrics

Who is this man
He brings about so much noise
Some are weeping
Some are screaming
It’s his time

I hear him cry
He screams he feels so alone
I am listening
I’m not breaking
Cause it’s his time

As he cries
I’m not shaken
All his lies
Brought him here
Still he fights
But it doesn’t matter
When he dies
I go home,
Sweet home…

And I don’t care
That some think he did no wrong
But if he did
Or if he didn’t
It’s his time

Justice wins
That’s all that matters here
He can weep but
Nothing changes
It’s his time

Chorus
Better cold steel
Better firm feet
Better my place
Than warm blood

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