One of my favorite bands is Band of Horses. They are not a Christian band. I don’t think they’re Christian at all. To be honest, it doesn’t determine whether I appreciate their music or not. Non-Christians can write some great music. Christians have produced some duds. The opposite is also true. There’s one song from Band of Horses that especially sticks out to me—well, there’s more than one, but this one came to mind most recently. It’s called “Compliments.” In the song they sing:
If there's a God up in the air,
Someone looking over everyone,
At least you got something to fall back on.
And what are people really for?
Does anybody even care?
I'll bet you get a lot of compliments down there.
What does it mean? I don’t know that I could tell you exactly what the writer had in mind. I read part of an interview somewhere where the writer himself admitted he really didn’t know for sure. That doesn’t really bother me, though. If you listen to the song, it fits that the lyrics’ meaning is uncertain. These are thoughts many of us have had before. They don’t have easy answers. They are pesky questions. They tend to pop in our head at various times and sometimes stay a few hours or days or weeks. Is there a God? Does He love us (can we fall back on Him)? What are people for, what’s their purpose? Even if we knew, would we care, would it change how we live or think? What do other people think of us? Is that most important?
One of the reasons I like this song is that, as a Christian, as much as the devil and doubts may assail me, God has revealed Himself to me in His Word and answered these pesky questions. Not only is He a God up in the air, but He’s come to earth. He doesn’t merely look over us, but He has condescended to look up to us, from the manger and from under His cross. For this reason, we do have something to fall back on. Even more, we have something to fail back on. We are set free to live, not with a backup plan or safety net or in fear at all, but with the confidence that at the end of the day, God is not sitting there waiting for us to fall back in some sort of divine trust fall. Instead, He has come and died and rose precisely to redeem our past, enliven our present, and guarantee our future.
What are people really for? How many of us didn’t spend countless hours in our adolescence, or high school, or college wrestling with this? Where did we fit? To what did we belong? What kind of people were we? What were we meant to be or do? Some of us took skill tests to see where our abilities and interests might land us in the workplace. Perhaps you remember sleepless nights pondering your next step, school, or career.
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-9).
What are people really for? In Christ, we need not worry. God, who has saved them by grace through faith, who has gifted them with salvation, knows full well and will use people as He sees fit. We can relax. Our purpose isn’t out there for us to figure out or find. Our place isn’t something for us to discover because God has purposes for us wherever He places us and our place is wherever that might be.
Does anybody care? That’s a good question. Too often I don’t. It’s easy to get distracted by the busyness of life and by all the stuff of a twenty-first-century existence. In fact, we don’t even have to get distracted; we can easily distract ourselves. If I don’t care often, how can I expect others to care? Thank God, then, that God did care and does care. Thank God, too, that our value and the value of our labor doesn’t depend on how highly we esteem ourselves or our deeds. Instead, our value depends on how highly God esteems us, which is as highly as He thinks of Jesus, His Son, our righteousness.
Do we get a lot of compliments? Maybe we do. Maybe our social media resounds with likes and retweets, perhaps our boss stops us daily to talk us up, or maybe your spouse or kids or parents never run out of praise for your contributions. But I’m guessing that’s not always the case. I’m also guessing that some of the stuff we put the most time and effort into goes the least noticed. So it often goes with vocation. But that takes us back to the start.
It’s not “if” there’s a God up in the air. There is a God, and He came to earth, and we killed Him, and He rose to absolve us, to speak our sin, even that greatest sin, away. He came to own and operate His baptized, not in slavery, but freedom, so that our minds are not up for rent when those pesky questions inquire. And then He ascended, not to leave us, but to be present with us, to work all things for our good, and to work all good through us and through our neighbors as His masks. It’s as His adopted children that we live and love, and it’s in Him that we don’t need to wonder what people are for because He makes clear that He is for us, for people, and that’s what makes them and us so important.
What do the verses of this song mean? Even the writer might not be sure. But I know what God means, as sure as a crucifix, as God on a cross, His potter’s hands pierced for me, His clay, shaped for freedom. Whether people care or compliments come, I know who I am in Him and not in anything or anyone else.