I feel my heart swell as I listen to the masterful song “From Now On” on the soundtrack to Greatest Showman, and my brain wonders why.
The song consists almost entirely of the two phrases “and we will come back home” and “from now on.” Let’s face it, the few other words really don’t say much outside the context of the movie’s story. Yet it has inspired me. Those of you who know me might be surprised to hear this, considering I’ve generally fallen on the “let’s sing songs with words that mean something” side of the Great and Perpetual hymns vs. praise song debate. So if you’re a friend in the opposition party, today just might be your day to dance on the tabletop and shout “Gruben’s finally coming around!” So why would these two phrases mean so much to a grumpy old “hymner?”
Let’s consider them.
The words “and we will come back home” echo a deep and even universal sentiment of yearning and hope. In Greatest Showman, they are sung by circus characters who are yearning for their ruined circus home to come together again. But the power of the song is that it awakes a sentiment inside most of us. We long for home. We literally long for temporal (on earth, in time) home. Psalm 68:6 says that “God sets the lonely in families” as a beautiful instance of His mercy to them.
Home, it really shouldn’t need to be pointed out, is where our family is, not where our house is. The essence of family is a deep and stable relationship where we can be emotionally safe around people who love us and who we love. Family is the most basic human relationship – made to be deepest and strongest between spouses, and next strongest between parents and children. I do think there is a kernel of truth to the sentiment oft echoed by Hollywood that family is where we find that deep relationship. This is implied by Psalm 68:6, where God is said to put family-less people into family relationships. But the sentiment must be qualified by the truth that God, in the ordinary course of things, puts everyone in families to start with. There have only been a couple of truly parentless people in history. And in the ordinary course of life (there are certainly exceptions), a person unable to love their genetic family has failed at the most basic human relationship and will often have trouble getting along with other people too.
But I digress. We all need family. We long for a place to come home after our wars, to have safety to be ourselves, to experience the adventure of giving in love to others. The epidemic of shattered homes, of relationships crushed and smashed by selfishness and sin, is perhaps the greatest tragedy of our culture today. And I think that’s why we find the sentiment of “coming back home again,” of healing our broken relationships, so powerful. Alistair Begg pointed out in a sermon that in our society of broken relations having a normal and happy family is the biggest ministry, the greatest statement, we can make. I think that’s true.
On a deeper level, the idea of home awakens in us a yearning for our eternal home, for the Platonic ideal, ultimate home. There is a place where our relationships will always be perfect. There we will truly be safe to express ourselves and love others with perfect joy. Even the best, most loving home on earth is a weak shadow of the blissful home that awaits in Heaven. We are strangers on the road to that eternal home, and our imperfect comradeship as pilgrims here should give us greater hope for the perfect comradeship that we’ll one day know. “We will come back home…home again!”
The words “from now on” echo a deep and universal sentiment of repentance and energy and hope. In Greatest Showman, it’s the words of Hugh Jackman as he runs away from a life of pursuing fame and wealth to come back to his family. The best stories contain this element of repentance, of turning away from one way of life and running toward another. This is what makes Christmas Carol one of my favorite stories, and I still find myself choking up at Scrooge’s merry transformation at the tale’s end. We tend to think of repentance as morose and depressing, but the beauty in this song captures the idea of it being exhilarating. Even to the world, there is something wonderful and thrilling about a man turning from a bad life to a good one. The very thought that we can change our lives and character is dripping with hope and is wonderful to our broken lives. I strongly believe even the worst people on earth can change. And this makes our messed-up world beautiful. It gives me hope that even I can change.
It must be pointed out that, theologically, the reality of repentance requires more than just me deciding to change. I can try to change my works, but one bad deed will still close Home forever (James 2:10). And hence the wonder of Christ’s redemptive work on my behalf is the very fact that He has given repentance its teeth back. He’s made it effective. He’s restored its power, its reality. I can turn back to God and turn my feet toward my eternal Home again with a spiritual reality, because His blood washes away my stains. It literally cleanses my soul and gives me reason and ability to change in repentance.
From now on…
In fashion just as succinct as this great Hollywood showtune, one of the most powerful sermons Christ ever preached was only 8 words (6 in the Greek): “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
Turns out, just a few words can mean a lot.