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Remembering Imagine: John Lennon’s Sugarcoated Atheistic Manifesto

By October 16, 202130 Comments

50 years ago this past October 8, John Lennon released his greatest hit song, Imagine. It was the best-selling single of his solo career, one that Rolling Stone described as his “greatest musical gift to the world.” They called it “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself.” The song was designed to imagine a completely unified world, one without borders between nations, or religion to divide us. It was a utopian vision of peace and love without God or Jesus. Imagine everyone in the world just holding hands and singing “Kumbaya!”

50 years ago this upcoming April, I came to believe in Jesus as my Messiah, Redeemer, and Lord. That event transformed this lover of Beatles songs into a critical thinker. After deciding to follow Jesus, I remember hearing Imagine on the radio and thinking, “What twaddle!” And ever since, I’ve hated that song. Moreover, I’m grateful it’s not part of the great Lennon and McCartney songbook—it was purely John Lennon although it could have been written by Vladmir Ilyich Lenin.

And John Lennon understood exactly what he was writing: In Geoffrey Giuliano’s 2000 biography Lennon In America, Lennon is quoted as describing the song as “Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted. Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.” In another interview, Lennon said that Imagine “is virtually the Communist Manifesto” in song. Let’s think about some of the lyrics.

“Imagine there’s no heaven,” so no promise of peace or comfort for Jesus followers who have endured so much pain in this world.

“No hell below us,” so there’s no assurance of judgment for the wicked. Hitler, Mao, and Stalin will never stand before God’s Judgment seat to receive justice for their crimes.

“Imagine all the people, living for today,” so no living in light of eternity, looking for the return of Jesus. Since no one would have hope, no one would seek to live pure lives.

“Imagine there’s no countries,” ignoring that God Himself established the 70 nations (Gen 10; 46:7; Deut 32:8; Exod 19:6) and chose one nation, Israel, to be “a kingdom of priests” to mediate the knowledge of God to all the nations.

“Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too,” ignoring that this has been tried. This same kind of communist and atheist vision led to Stalin’s murder of 40 million people and Mao’s cultural revolution killing 60 million.

“Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, no need for greed and hunger,” ignoring that there would also be no generosity, sharing, or goodness either. Ultimately, this vision sees the world’s problem as “stuff,” material possessions. But the Bible says the real problem is the human heart, sinful as it is, and in need of transformation.

It just amazes me how this awful song is presented as some glorious utopian vision of the world living as one. There’s a far better hope found in Revelation 21-22. It includes the New Creation and the New Jerusalem, where “God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist, grief crying and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4). We look forward to the day when there will be no temple “because the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb are its sanctuary” with no sun or moon “because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:22-23).

So the next time you’re in the grocery store and the ever present Muzak comes on, playing Imagine, instead of humming along with it, maybe we should all start singing, I Can Only Imagine instead:

I Can Only Imagine,
What it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes would see
When Your face is before me
I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?

30 Comments

  • Avatar Gail Donivan says:

    Thank you for your insight. Through the years I mindlessly hum melodies or sing along to songs that are so contrary to scripture. A good word to be discerning and alert to cultural influences and how they seep into my/our minds.

  • Avatar Amy Koehnlein says:

    Amen!

  • Avatar Becky Wilcox Wilcox says:

    Amen.

  • Avatar Alfredo Guzman says:

    As I get older. I’m 55 now, I hear a lot of music of my youth that now I have no need to hear and includes “Imagine”. I always had problems with the message it tends to explain. You did an excellent job clarifying this song and it’s true meaning. Thank you for your work here Dr. Rydelnik. God bless you, your brother in Christ our Savior, Alfredo Guzman

  • Avatar Lizette Stoddart says:

    Nice analogy. I enjoyed hearing it this morning. I like that you not only said what you did not like about it but you also gave a substitute.

  • Avatar Tina Barilla says:

    This was beautifully written and so true! Your words of wisdom always enlighten me.

  • Avatar Dan Puckett says:

    Such great wisdom. I can only Imagine. Thank you Jesus!

  • Avatar Christine Flake says:

    Thank you Michael for this message. Being a youngster of 58, I grew up hearing this song 100’s of times. Sure the melody is great, but alas, it is full of emptiness. If I had to depend on just myself all my life, I’d have given up years ago. I’m not that tough. Wars, political unrest, virus’s, shootings in schools, human trafficking’s, schools teaching our children to hate America, and the list goes on. I’ve had four heart surgeries and have survived breast cancer. If it wasn’t for the LOVE of Jesus in my life and God my Father and heaven above, I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing this letter now.
    My husband and myself listen to your Open Line broadcast as often as possible. It is a blessing to us. Thank you for your dedication of spreading the Good News!

  • Avatar Douglas says:

    Amazing what we once listened to and now ave no desire for because of what we were spiritually blind and now we are able to see truth from a biblical view.

  • Avatar Becky Brainard says:

    All well spoken…however… when my husband and I visit NYC, we always stay just down the street from where John took his last breath here on earth, and we were told the church we visited a number of years ago (a few blocks from the Dakota Building,) that John Lennon was in attendance the night before he died.

    Was he searching, did he find what he wanted to find? Did he hear the Gospel and receive it?

    I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see this human in heaven. We serve a merciful God.

  • Avatar Judy Beasley says:

    Love this! Never really listened to the Beatles but it seems like everyone knows this song. It would be better if everyone knew Jesus and his word instead of this ridiculous song.
    Thank you Dr. Rydelnik

  • Avatar Albert ochoa says:

    Thank you for this great inside as a person who works many Sundays filling stores with bread I appreciate your insight on this song which always bothers me .

  • Avatar Mary Jackson says:

    Amen! Well written! Thank you for speaking truth!!

  • Avatar Thomas Lemke says:

    Thank you for writing this article Michael, and thank you for pointing to our need to have a relationship with Christ to tame our selfish and harmful desires. Thank you for shining Christ’s light.

  • Avatar Marlin Schwartz says:

    Yes, just a tragic refrain set in song that becomes a anthem for atheists that leads to destruction.

  • Avatar Bobbie says:

    Love this article. I will do as you suggest. Love the song I Can Only Imagine!

  • Avatar Karen Hensley says:

    Thank you for your comments on this song. I totally agree with you. It’s a shame that the beautiful music can cause people to overlook the lyrics. I’m so thankful we have more than we can imagine to look forward to.

  • Avatar Sarah Rappe says:

    Amen Brother Michael,

    They have not discover the Awesome God who loves us unconditionally.

    Sister S Rappe

  • Avatar Sarah Rappe says:

    Hi,
    I m deaf. I have cochlear Implant on right side and left hearing aid.
    I was not able to hear or understand your “Open Line” podcast. A friend refer me to listen to it.
    Could I ask you to share the transcripts possibly with me? So I could try to read it along with your podcast of “Open Line” ?
    I thank you and may the Lord bless you.

    Sarah Rappe’

  • Avatar Jill says:

    Thank you for this. I wasn’t a Beatles fan but was and did not know all of the lyrics. However, if I hear Lennon song I pray I will break out with, I Can Only Imagine.
    I also wanted to say, I listen to the Saturday morning program.
    Blessings

  • Avatar Lynn Holzinger says:

    I am familiar with the song “Imagine” but honestly, I’ve never paid attention to the words, so this was very enlightening. What a horrible song. But I’m very familiar with the song, “I Can Only Imagine” and look forward to the day when I am in Jesus’ presence. I like to imagine returning with Him at the second coming where He will rule for a thousand years. I like to imagine every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. And Jesus getting all the honor and glory that’s due His name.

  • Avatar Lynne Kott says:

    Totally agree. Always disliked that song and don’t like to hear it ever anywhere. Just bought a painting of the song I can only imagine for my brothers new home .

  • Avatar Jan Carlson says:

    I love the song, “I Can Only Imagine. ” April sang it at her Grandfather’s celebration of life. Miss you and your family.

  • Avatar FRANCIS DEREIMER says:

    Thank your for your insight and comments Dr. Rydelnik. I too was raised a “Beatle child” and I too accepted Christ in my twenties and I too have never been able to listen to “Imagine” the same way after I allowed Christ to be the center of my life. But there again John Lennon has never been seen as my saviour, just a messed up guy from Liverpool who unfortunately never knew our Lord.

  • Avatar Susan Alberts says:

    Thank you for some insight on that song. Never considered it to be anything other than a dreamy wistful song. My eyes have been opened. Thank you for that. Quite interesting.

  • Avatar Ron Pieratt says:

    A very poignant article, so many fools are enamored

  • Michael,
    After being saved, I too listened to Lennon’s song on the radio and I then realized how silly the words and meaning were for our world. Sadly, my friends that don’t know the true God snd his Son would think it’s a wonderful song. Now I am moved by Casting Crown’s song instead. Thanks for saying truth.

  • Avatar George Sedlak says:

    Michael,
    After being saved, I too listened to Lennon’s song on the radio and I then realized how silly the words and meaning were for our world. Sadly, my friends that don’t know the true God snd his Son would think it’s a wonderful song. Now I am moved by Casting Crown’s song instead. Thanks for saying truth.

  • Avatar Valerie Gary says:

    I love this so much !
    Whenever I hear the song and the lyrics “ imagine there’s no heaven “ I always say to myself, “ no, I don’t want to imagine that “ .

    This post really says it all…. Thank you for your insight.

  • Avatar LaVerne Yarmola says:

    Dear Dr. Rydelnik, Thank you for this post; you stated exactly what I was interested to know about the song “Imagine.”

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