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?