There are times when I’m mindlessly listening to the radio in the car and suddenly my mind’s engaged--thrust into gear more like--to the message of a particular song. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989) sparked my imagination recently. This song talks about the history of the world during the first forty years of Joel’s’ life (1949-1989), and patterns of life (good) and death (evil) in quite vivid ways.
In the song we’re taken through a sweeping journey of the Baby Boomer period of the 20th Century, from critical events of history, to social figures, to politicians, to places, and famous movies and Broadway shows. Joel, a self-confessed history nut, went through the years of his life, selecting year events and writing them into his lyric.
It’s not a disorganised mish-mash of names; it leads to a climax in the line, “JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?!” before entering into the chorus which puts things very plainly:
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
The Baby Boomer generation was criticised for the degradation of the world by both preceding and succeeding generations, and Joel felt this was patently unfair; the Baby Boomer didn’t start the fire… it had been burning long before the Baby Boomer arrived on the scene.
Even though the Baby Boomer didn’t light the fire, they still tried to fight it. This is a nice way of saying the current generation feels the instinctive pull to protect things for those coming after it. History attests to this intrinsic human desire for basic righteousness and justice.
An Alternative Thesis
The fire is the nature of life; once perfect the way God created it to be, and since the fall of humankind: sin, brokenness and innate want. The nature of life since soon after Creation has been a constant battle between good and evil. (We generally can’t see this because we can’t imagine a world without a battle between good and evil.)
The Christian world’s purpose is to fight the fire. The idea that it wasn’t us that lit the fire isn’t completely accurate. God designed life a certain way and we interrupted that plan; (plural) he foresaw that and created, from the beginning, a Saviour in his Son--a way back for us to enjoy fellowship with him.
The co-commitment from us, in our seeking to love God back for his grace and mercy in the ‘cosmic contingency plan,’ is we seek justice and fairness for all people in this life. Many events in history, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, have conspired against good in their base evil. We fight (the good fight) to maintain balance.
The key fact of life is explained in the final stanza of the song. When we’re gone the fire will still burn, on and on and on and on… until God decides to intervene, and truly bring his redemptive plan to (absolute) completion.
And we have to understand that we’re simply carriers of the code. We’re entrusted today with the same job our ancestors had in previous generations to thousands of years back.
We must be courageously good stewards.
Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.