Old rockers and the blessings of God:
OK, now that a number of you are wondering if I have finally lost the plot and gone off the deep end with a title like this, hear me out – or read me out. There is a rationale for this, and some of you might know where I am heading with this piece. So bear with me as I try to explain.
There I was, minding my own business, reading books as I normally tend to do late at night – or early in the morning. While I do this, sometimes I will have the television on in the background with the sound off. So I had noticed that the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games was on, with all sorts of performers I was not familiar with. I was not interested and the sound stayed off.
As I was about to hit the hay, I noticed someone performing who looked a bit familiar, so I turned on the sound and sure enough: a blast from the past. There was Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath performing their old hit “Paranoid”. And I mean really old – we are talking late 60s, early 70s here. Back in my wild youth I was a big fan.
He is originally from Birmingham, so his rounding off the Games was a surprise and a treat to many of his old fans. Here I want to say just a few things about the guy and my own recollections of him, ending with a bit of a theological and biblical discussion.
I remember once when I was perhaps 16 or 17 driving with some other hippy friends to a concert in Milwaukee. It might have been Black Sabbath we were going to see, but I am not sure – as usual, we were so stoned out of our minds that it is all a big blur. I am surprised whoever was driving made it on this and other trips to rock concerts.
While heading there, one of my friends was a bit bummed: he had just read a piece in Rolling Stone magazine saying that despite their image (Satanist rebels and hardcore counter-culturalists), Black Sabbath was really only in it for the money! That bothered me too: ‘Hey, what about the revolution? What about offing the system? What about opposing the middle class culture?’
And I guess to prove that they never really were all that anti-mainstream, a few decades later Ozzy and his family actually had their own reality TV program: “The Osbournes”. That is about as mainstream as you can get. So much for standing against the system and being hardcore rebels.
One thing worth focusing on for a moment is something Ozzy said: “God bless you all” he told the crowd as they concluded the song. Now folks say that all the time: rockers, politicians, sporting heroes, and so on. How many of them actually mean it? And how many of them know what it actually means?
Most religions do not really feature that phrase and concept, but it obviously is massively important to Judaism and Christianity. Consider the classic text on this in the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 6:24-26):
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The New Testament also speaks much of God’s blessing. Let me mention just one passage – 1 Peter 3:8-9:
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
But as I say, people say this all the time, but likely have no clue what it is all about, or how it is intended to be used. Christian philosopher Dallas Willard once said this about the phrase:
Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. It isn’t just words. It’s the actual putting forth of your will for the good of another person. It always involves God, because when you will the good of another person, you realize only God is capable of bringing that. So we naturally say, “God bless you.” You can bless someone when you will their good under the invocation of God. You invoke God on their behalf to support the good that you will for them. This is the nature of blessing. It is what we are to receive from God and then give to another.
Yes, to offer God’s blessing on another person is not just a trite cliché but something rather important for the believer. And the blessings of God in one sense can be lavished on all people. It is part of what we refer to as God’s common grace. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:45: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
By the way, when I was younger, growing up in a family of German background, often when I sneezed my parents would say “Gesundheit” – which is the German equivalent of “God bless you”. Part of the reason for this practice is it used to be thought that when you sneeze demons might come into your body, or your soul might leave. So this blessing had a spiritual significance, even if a rather misguided one.
Getting back to Ozzy. I am not sure if he has had anything to do with Christianity. One newspaper report years ago said that he was an Anglican and he prayed before each performance. Whether or not that is the case I do not know. And what he said in an interview 8 years ago is not very reassuring in this regard:
“I’m a Christian. I was christened as a Christian. I used to go to Sunday school. I never took much interest in it because … I didn’t. My idea of heaven is feeling good. A place where people are alright to each other. This world scares the sh*t out of me.” https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/08/ozzy-osbourne-spin-magazine-1986-interview-black-sabbath
But I can tie all these loose threads together here. God’s grace and blessings to Ozzy are clearly manifold. Despite decades of drug and alcohol abuse and wild living, he is still alive – he should have passed on years ago. This is certainly part of God’s grace and blessing to the guy.
And his second marriage to Sharon has lasted for 40 years now. That is better than many Christian marriages. So he seems to have mellowed a bit and has become a family man. And for an old guy (73) he still can belt out a tune as he did in yesterday’s performance.
So whether he knows what he is doing by asking a blessing on the crowd after a performance, he has indeed been the recipient of God’s blessings. The real issue is whether he will get the full package: whether he will come to know Jesus Christ in a personal saving relationship.
At the very least, that is something we can all pray for.