I too have always thought of R.E.M. as one of those bands that was more interested in good music than big commercial success (though they have had both).
The face of the group, the androgynous Michael Stipe, possesses not only an interesting voice but a compassionate heart. Songs like “Everybody Hurts” (lyrics below) is part of the evidence of a man who knows the pain of life and wants to help those who suffer.
What strikes me however is that the song, though filled with pathos, and carried evocatively into the depths of the listeners soul by both Stipe’s voice and the muscial arrangement, and that makes one long to help those who suffer with the darkness of night that all of us go through periodically, its exhortation to “hang on” is . . . well, frankly . . . weak and only marginally helpful.
“Hold on” sings Stipe, with great passion because, “everybody hurts”. In other words “hold on because we all go through it. This will pass.” Here’s the full text of the lyrics.
When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life, well hang on
Take comfort in your friends
Don’t throw your hand, oh no
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like your’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone
If you’re on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
For those of us that have tasted the rich depths of gospel, the freedom we find from the things we leave behind, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of the resurrection, the daily presence of Christ, the wonder of the transformation of our hearts by the Spirit, Stipe/R.E.M’s offer of hope is a weak soup in a beautiful bowl. Listen by contrast to what the apostle Paul reports on his experience of depressing-causing-circumstances:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:24–28 (ESV)
That’s a whole boatload of stuff to “hang on” through.
Everybody hurts, everybody, no exceptions.
But Paul’s list of suffering and pain and heartache is far beyond most, yet, here’s what Paul says allows him to survive, overcome and press on:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
2 Corinthians 4:8–14 (ESV)
In light of the riches of the gospel “hang on, everybody hurts” seems like the empty help of Job’s friends in his dark night.