When I was growing up my parents vacillated between encouraging me to listen to God-honoring sanctified music and allowing me to listen to secular music. As for me, I often found myself waffling between the two, resolving one minute to seek spiritual purity and giving in the next minute to the lure of Casey Kasem’s Top Forty.
During those times when I would resolve to purify my ears, I inevitably looked for Christian versions of my favorite secular artists. Like a new vegan convert desperate to find a tofu patty that tastes like real beef, I was desperate to find a satisfactory sanctified substitute for my favorite secular singers.
I recount some of that tortured process in What’s So Confusing About Grace? As I note there, the Christian bookstore had a long list of Christian versions of secular artists. If you like ABBA, check out Silverwind; Iron Maiden? Try Barren Cross; Is Ratt your thing? Definitely give Whitecross a listen.
The year was 1985 when Heart’s eponymous eighth album exploded onto the scene … and promptly blew me away. Full of awesome tracks like “Never” (still my favorite), “Nothin’ at All,” and “These Dreams” I quickly became a Heart fanatic.
So what to do a couple years later when I found myself back in Pilgrim’s Slough of Despond, keen to shelve my secular music and seek pious entertainment instead?
Then a light broke through. One day I was reading a Christian magazine — I think it was Campus Life — when I read the review of an album by a new artist named “Margaret Becker.” The reviewer gave the album a solid review and noted crucially that Becker sounded a lot like Heart.
I was sold! Down to the Christian bookstore and I picked up the album Never for Nothing. And on the lead track at least Becker did sound a lot like Ann Wilson! To be sure, Never for Nothing was never really a substitute for stellar albums like Heart or Bad Animals, but like a passable tofu burger, it was enough to keep me on the wagon for awhile.
Thirty years later as I listen to the eponymous title track I find that the song has held up fairly well. At least the music part has. But the lyrics are, frankly, horrible.
Consider, the song is an encouragement to continue doing good works even when they are not reciprocated. As Becker sings, we should remember that “It’s never for nothing when you love with no return.”
Why, exactly? Why is it never for nothing?
Becker reveals the reason in the second verse:
Your friends say you’re the fool – For loving with nothing to gain – But they can’t see the reward – That you’ll claim – So hold on to the holy promise (that says) – No labor of love is in vain – Precious tears are changed to jewels – In the rain
Oh. My. Goodness.
So … the reason we continue to “love with no return” is because you WILL get a return. Oh yeah! A BIG REWARD.
I hope my atheist friends never run across this song. It will confirm their worst suspicions! By this logic, Christian ethics is merely transactional, the ultimate quid pro quo: we love not because he first loved us but because we’re going to get a posthumous payout.
Perhaps the worst part is that Becker’s first album was named after this song, and the song became the lead track for the album. This bad theology didn’t just slip through the cracks: it was on the cover! That suggests to me that many Christians (at least many in the late eighties) accepted what Becker is singing: for them ethics was indeed merely transactional, self-interested, a necessary evil in pursuit of heavenly reward.
How ironic that I would listen to a song like this as an allegedly sanctified substitute for morally inferior “secular” music.