God Only Knows

I grew up steeped in a very specific religious tradition, namely a Chinese-American-contemporary-evangelical-Christian-neo-Calvinism, and so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the algorithms of Netflix and Facebook led me to watch “A Week Away”, a fairly superficial teen drama musical about (of all things) a summer Christian camp. While many books have been written about the theological and cultural influences that popped up in the rebooted music from the 90s now stacked in my Spotify playlist (see how “millennial” and hip I am?), at this point in life I am only concerned about what has already become inextricably ingrained part of my personality: hypersensitivity to shame and honor, a dogmatic belief that certain virtues & truths are immutable, and loyalty to a fault.

Consequently, I often feel violently torn while scrolling through social media feeds, seeing these same primordial elements rise up within two cultures I am a product of that feel at increasingly bitter odds with one another: American Christianity and American Medicine. I have repeated mantras to myself that sound similar, familiar, and synergistic to one another, cadences of deeply resonant aspirations within both Christianity and Medicine: consider others more highly than yourself, seek the patient’s interest first, be your brother’s keeper, first do no harm, through suffering we attain somehow to the resurrection of the dead, the great physician treats the patient who has the disease, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, they can always hurt you more, Jesus wept.

Perhaps this is why I have been somewhat obsessed with listening to this musical mashup of two songs. One is a simple chorus whose power draws from the repetition and reassurance of the plain and humble assertion that:

Our God is an Awesome God

He reigns from heaven above

With wisdom and power and love

Our God is an Awesome God

I have sung this hundreds if not thousands of times, often during periods of excruciating emotional pain. It has been a way of reminding myself that I was not alone and that the pain was not purposeless. Sometimes I could eventually see rhyme and reason to my experiences, but even when not I was still able to feel some reassurance and consolation in the deep affection and personhood and presence of God. In this mashup, the chorus grows with melodies and layers and triumphant notes. But then it fades.

The second song is more complex. The rhythm and tone are both wandering and haunting, well suited for the realm of deep insecurities and unarticulated trauma they meander into:

Wide awake while the world is sound asleepin’

Too afraid of what might show up while you’re dreamin’

Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you

Nobody, nobody, nobody would believe you

Every day you try to pick up all the pieces

All the memories, they somehow never leave you

Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you

Nobody, nobody, nobody would believe you

God only knows what you’ve been through

God only knows what they say about you

God only knows how it’s killing you

Is there a kind of love that God only knows

God only knows what you’ve been through

God only knows what they say about you

God only knows the real you

Is there a kind of love that God only knows

And so the two songs overlay each other in ways that I do not understand. Are they competing for dominance? Are they calling and responding to one another? Or does one mock the other?

As each day of the current wave of Covid passes, I see increasingly desperate posts from my friends in medicine across the country. I hear their trauma echo my own: sleepless nights, intensely isolating pain, the despair of being unheard and unbelieved, the slow death by a thousand injuries, the self-loathing over compassion fatigue and subsequent loss of love and identity in being loving.

And when I hear the chorus of the first song, I too wonder if the voices are mocking or calling out an answer or calling out for them or preaching a fanciful self-delusion or speaking an ancient, immutable, liturgical truth.

So I listen to it over and over again as the repetition is both soothing and disturbing, rhythmic and jarring, resonant and irritating in the sort of way that God only knows.








One response to “God Only Knows”

  1.  Avatar

    I love this chorus, and the mash of the two brings tears to my eyes as I think about Whit so many of my medical friends are going through right now. Thank you…for the link, for the post and for doing this hard thing right now.

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