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March 25, 2005

Songs for a Desert Island VI

Welcome to another installment of the Greet Machine series "Songs for a Desert Island." Before we begin, let's recap the songs I've selected so far:

As you can see, so far my list is shaping up nicely. I definitely will have some good music to listen to and ponder over while stranded on my desert island. You should also note that most of the music I select has some sort of religious message inside of it, especially "All This Time" and "I Still Haven't Found." I am fascinated with the role and impact of religion, especially Christianity, within popular culture. It is hard to escape given our popular media's penchant to rehash famous biblical stories. Sure, the most obvious example is Gibson's The Passion, but we've also recently been treated to other movies in this same vein like The Matrix, or even more recently in Constantine (does Keanu have a messianic complex or what?).

Get behind me Satan...

The sixth addition to my desert island music list will once again have a religious message. And this is probably appropriate given that today is Good Friday. In fact, my next selection focuses primarily on Jesus Christ's betrayal and the most significant character in that betrayal: Judas Iscariot. So, without further adieu, my next selection is "Until the End of the World" by U2.

"Until the End of the World" is a close second to "I Still Haven't Found" for the title of my favorite U2 song. It features great lyrical writing by Bono, but also phenomenal guitar work by the Edge. Besides an absolute face-melting solo in the middle of the song, the beginning starts with an other-worldly and experimental guitar sound that only the Edge could work into a song. This is followed by solid drum and bass work by Larry and Adam that builds and builds up to quite possibly the Edge's most recognizable guitar riff. This riff frames the guilt-ridden and regretful mood of the entire song as Bono finally begins to sing:

Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world

Enter Judas. It is difficult to say where Judas is at this particular moment. It certainly sounds like a long time after the crucifixion, as Judas is apparently seeing Jesus again after "quite a while." Judas goes on to explain the circumstances of their last meeting which obviously is The Last Supper. I'm not sure everyone was "having a good time," though, since Jesus was probably a little anxious knowing what would happen next. During this dinner, Jesus also revealed that one of his own disciples would betray him. The disciples were distraught by this news, of course, and they all asked him, "Is it me?" In Mark 14:21 Jesus says, "But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would have been good for that man if he had never been born."

I find this to be an interesting problem. Judas obviously played a very important role in the crucifixion story. Without him, would Jesus have been crucified? It is hard to say, but Judas definitely set into motion the most important act in the whole Christian faith. He set into motion the crucifixion of Jesus which ultimately gave the entirety of mankind the promise of redemption and a doorway to the Father. Could it be argued that Judas actually did a good thing? Again, I find this to be an interesting paradox of sorts. On the one hand Judas betrayed Jesus, but on the other hand by doing so he was only a pawn in God's master plan. The question then is, given the importance of Judas in this story, could he be given forgiveness? We'll come back to that. Bono continues:

I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You...you were acting like it was
The end of the world

According to the story, Judas took 40 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. A relatively small price for the Son of God, to be sure. After the Last Supper Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemene where he prayed and waited for his fate. Judas eventually arrives with some Roman soldiers, and he kisses Jesus in order to identify Jesus to the soldiers. This I find to be another strange part of the story. Jesus was very popular and well known by this time. In fact, just a short time before, he triumphantly entered Jerusalem in a parade type atmosphere that we now celebrate as Palm Sunday.

So I have to ask, why was Judas important? Why did he need to identify Jesus? Would the Roman soldiers not already know who Jesus was? Maybe, maybe not, again it is hard to say. Perhaps Jewish law mandated that an accuser publicly identify the accused? If anyone has any other thoughts about this I would love to hear them. Regardless, Judas kisses Jesus and after a brief scuffle the soldiers lead Jesus away. The story goes that Judas was so distraught by his betrayal of Jesus that he hung himself.

Bono sings:

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You...you said you'd wait
'til the end of the world

Now we get to the meat of the song. In this stanza Bono is essentially asking the same question I've been building up to in this post. Given the important part that Judas plays in this event, given the fact that he is merely carrying out the ultimate plan of God, is it possible for Judas to receive forgiveness and redemption? Bono sings about the regret Judas must have felt, but he also sings about "waves of joy" as Judas reaches out to Jesus for forgiveness. What a powerful moment. Is it possible? Personally I believe it is. I don't necessarily agree with the Catholic doctrine of damnation for people who commit suicide. There is no biblical basis for this belief. Given Judas's regret and despair, would the grace of God also be enough for even the betrayer of the Son of God himself?

Bono does not answer this question. The song ends with Jesus telling Judas he will "wait until the end of the world." Is Jesus referring to the Last Judgement? Or is Jesus telling Judas he will always be ready to forgive him? Even until the end of the world?

Judas ... certainly a reviled figure in the history of Christianity. However, I ask the question again: given his importance in God's ultimate plan, could he also receive forgivess and salvation?

Well, I don't know about you, but I will definitely ponder that between now and the end of the world. There is no definitive answer.

So, I hope you've enjoyed this installment of "Songs for a Desert Island." Hopefully if you listen to "Until the End of the World" again you will look at it a little more closely like me. Please feel free to share any other insight you may have. Until next time...

Posted by snackeru at March 25, 2005 4:30 PM


It's Saturday. Where are the cats?

Posted by: Dianna at March 26, 2005 7:22 AM


Posted by: bjhess at March 27, 2005 8:47 PM

Andrew Lloyd Weber--and more directly, his lyricist, Tim Rice, really foregrounded the Judas question in Jesus Christ Superstar. By giving Judas a sympathetic treatment, and even having him return at the end to reprise "Superstar", they created quite a controversy in the religious establishment 30+ years ago. It's scary to think how the right wing Christian crowd would react today.

Posted by: Tim at March 28, 2005 10:58 AM

Tim, thanks for the comment. My mom always told me that Jesus Christ Superstar was also very controversial due to its focus on the crucifixion at the expense of the resurrection (or so I'm told). In fact, did the play even have a resurrection? Anyway, it was before my time and I am ashamed to admit I've never seen it. I will have to put that on my "list."

And truthfully, I think right wing Christians have softened somewhat on issues like this. They've got bigger fish to fry now (gay marriage, abortion, etc.). But what do I know?

Posted by: Shane at March 28, 2005 2:19 PM

This song brings up an interesting point about Christian theology, and one which I think many "right wing Christians" might disagree with: if Judas can be forgiven for his sins, does this not open the gates for Heaven to anyone? I heard a professor of religion at Concordia argue this very point. What does this mean for people who live a moral "Christian-like" life but do not except Christ as their savior? If Judas is forgiven at the end of the world, what about evil persons such as Hitler and Stalin (realizing of course that they were not Christian in addition to being pure evil)? Just a thought...

Curt in Grand Forks (who is listening to the song in question)

Posted by: Curt Hanson at March 29, 2005 9:00 AM

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