I Hold Metallica Responsible for My Salvation
(A man who loves his family)
Metallica and My Salvation - 2008
As I was praying about how best to present this story, my Lord said, “Write as if Lars Ulrich were reading it. He needs My love too.” But this is for you, too - because I think you deserve to know this perspective.
This is the love of God in action.
God tends to teach me using themes – one subject at a time, to make sure I get it and never forget it. He takes as long as necessary, throwing the same things in my path until I trip over them enough to understand them. The theme for the last two years has been: “The Creator God can use whatever He wants to accomplish His eternal (and day-to-day) purposes.” To bring someone to Him, He can use Buddhism, sorcery, demons, Christians, a copy of His Word, pretenders, or a duck. For me, He used James Hetfield and Metallica, by means of a song James is largely responsible for: “The God That Failed.”
Lars (yes, you), I hope you choose to understand this – especially the concept of being “used of God” – because He’ll use you whether you want to be or not. He made you. It’s His right.
Metallica and My Damnation
Eleven was a full year for me. I had aimed at being a writer since pre-school, and finally had two stories published in a small local paper. I also wound up attending the Sunday School class of a woman who considered me capable of understanding God's Word - the true Scriptures, without cutesy stories and songs to prop up my understanding. Being allowed this way to take the Scriptures at face value caused me to gain spiritual momentum, and, in accordance with my new interests, I was baptized in front of the congregation of my home church. Finally, that summer, my best-friend pony died, leaving me in an agony of spirit. At the same time, I came in contact with Metallica. They were my first taste of Heavy Metal, and my first exposure to music that overtly glorified death. I was fascinated, like a snake with a piper.
I liked their skillful sound.
The lyrics were often unclear to me, but the music produced a creativity and a depth of thought I had rarely felt before. Truly, the music took over my senses. I loved it – the images, the colors of sound, the rainbow of emotions. James’ voice dug at the core of my humanity. The music, even without the lyrics, spoke of a desolation of soul culminating in an emptiness the size of an eternal Universe. It exposed some part of my soul that I had known about, but felt was dangerous to let out. Words like: curses, love, anger, force, tyranny, hope, and damnation came to mind, like the whole experience of Man was being split open incrementally by the blood-encrusted blade of Truth.
Through the Never
Listening to this music was like playing games with a candle, passing my hand through the flames to produce black streaks on my palm.
I listened to it off and on over the next few months – mainly when my sister, who owned the album, visited home from her summer’s job. One night I found myself alone, examining Metallica’s “Black” album, as it poured through the household stereo speakers. Curiosity had finally made me open the lyrics booklet, and I read each song as it played.
Some of them dealt with topics my family had only danced around, like what seemed to be demon possession or influence (related to substance abuse).
Substance Abuse and Spirit Problems - Sad But True
One struggled with loneliness, and left me aching for the hurt in my father's life. He had been adopted as a small child, and often dealt with a similar type of anger as I heard now.
And then, one struck like a blow to the belly.
“The healing hand held back by the deepened nail…”
“Decide just what you believe (you must!)” …
“Betrayal, The healing hand held back by the deepened nail…follow the God that failed.”
“The God That Failed” caused an emotional concussion. It left me dizzy and disoriented, feeling as if my mind had gone into a tailspin.
The God That Failed
This song couldn’t be right!
It didn't match up with anything I had ever been told.
All my life, I had been told that God had sent His one and only Son to be born of a virgin, and that the Son had willingly died in my place, so that I could spend eternity with Him. I had been told that He was all-powerful, that He had things under control – that He, in short, had victory over everything, because He had gotten back up from the grave.
The writer of “The God That Failed” had left Him up there on the cross, alone, and powerless…and no matter how carefully I listened, He never came back down.
The story of this god ended in the grave.
Immediately, I was angry. How dare this fool of a man suggest my God had failed! Didn’t he know that He can’t fail? – that He knows everything, and can do anything?
Hadn’t this fellow read the rest of the story?
Too shocked for tears, I realized that…I couldn’t tell him the proper ending for the story, because I didn’t know it myself. I had been living on my parents’ faith. I was faced with the question: So how does God become real to a person? Worse yet, a doubt whispered, “Could it all be a fraud?”
No! The Bible was no fraud. God was no fraud. Somewhere, somehow, this man had missed the Living Truth, and I set out to find it for him - for me. I couldn’t find it for him; he would have to do that for himself.
I spent the next three years with that question hanging over me – the question about God’s eternal presence, which obviously was not part of my life. The void in me grew – the void that I knew must be filled by something, but which refused everything I dumped into it. Life got very lonely, and my spirit turned grey with unrest. Increasingly, my heart seemed ugly to me, and I wanted God. He seemed somehow responsible for this mess of my life, and I wanted Him to fix it. I had a ceaseless anger which burned in my gut, and guilty thoughts that clouded my judgment and attacked my sense of self-worth.
It seemed to me that God was hiding from me. Didn’t He know how hopeless I felt; how sleep forsook me, and how I hated my life? Didn’t He know I couldn’t keep going under this burden of self-loathing?
As usual, I went to summer camp in July of my fourteenth year, and there I met people who showcased God more vividly than I had ever seen before. They were kind. They were gentle. They cared for one another’s thoughts and preferences. Their eyes had an unexplainable, joyful light, which poured out on all in their presence. They loved their neighbors, and they loved themselves. They loved their families, and they seemed content. They had what I wanted. Now, how had they gotten it?
At some point that week, my wonderment turned to understanding, and I became full of Light, just like them. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God really had done everything He said He’d done. My family noticed the difference. I felt for the first time God’s working in my heart, renewing and strengthening, and giving me the will and the ability to do right. I began the long journey through forgiveness.
I had a long list of people who had wronged me, and somewhere on that list was James Hetfield, the instigator of “The God That Failed.” It was his ideas that had jerked my life all out of control…shot it down like a World War One bi-plane, and angered me to the point of provoking damnation to my soul. His words were responsible for my first angry violations to my conscience, resulting in definite sin. (Romans 14:23 -“…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”)
I had wanted revenge on all on this list. Now, I wanted to let James go, and even to share with him the Light that I had found.
But he was part of Metallica, and how could someone like me gain audience with someone like him? Unless God arranged it.
* * * * *
At eighteen, I started to Bible School, and married a year after. I had built a foundation for my life on the solid Rock, and was determined to keep an impeccable record before God. Almost immediately, I found this was not the same as keeping an impeccable record before some of His people. I found the college much more legalistic than I had expected, and had many clashes with the faculty because of my convictions. Those who ran the college found my taste in music offensive. I found their hypocrisy in use of music equally offensive, and carried on many rants within myself about their views. If a song had "too much drum" it was deemed "of the Devil". If a band dared step off soil deemed holy by the faculty, they were immediately and eternally condemned.
I knew this was not God's way.
I held harder than ever to my convictions, and began praying casually for the Metallica band members to find the Truth of God’s goodness. I still found many of their songs uncomfortable, like an ill-fitting jacket, but couldn’t seem to abandon them. There was a truth and a spirit within many of the songs that outstripped the inspiration of much of the "acceptable" music, as if God Himself had ordered the notes, and worked His purposes through the band member's unholy thoughts and hands. I knew that no mere man could have created the depth of images, which repeated themselves for listener after listener, and that no mortal Son of Adam could have arranged the play of emotions that was a staple of Metallica's music, album after album. Without fail, the music reached to my core and yanked at creative possibilities, until it seemed my whole being was unleashed. After I left school, I did a thorough housecleaning, removing everything I was sure would not glorify God - and Metallica stayed.
I was convinced God was somehow O.K. over this decision; that, indeed, He would have been unhappy had I chosen to rid myself of the music.
That year, with my new baby in my arms, I began teaching a local Sunday School class at a new church, full of hurting neighborhood children. I maintained my Metallica habit, but in secret this time. I had learned my lesson about the meaninglessness of most religious conflicts, and determined not to leavea trail of crippled relationships on account of small differences. I saw that God did not teach all His children the same things at the same times - that indeed some never proved ready for certain lessons - and strove therefore to be no stumbling block to my brothers and sisters.
As the years passed, I prayed more fervently for the band members, and especially James. I could somehow feel his hurt, like a never-healing bruise in my soul, and craved an opportunity to let him know what he had done in my life, and what God could do in his.
My God, who had not failed. My God, who heals the broken-hearted, and binds up every wound.
My God, who knows how to cry along with the hurting.
My God…who wants to be his God.
My Sunday School class grew up, and many of the faces changed. As they neared and then surpassed the age at which I had become Christ’s, I hungered to give them some part of my soul that would convince them of God’s faithfulness. So far, I had felt stunted in my efforts to model Christ for them, because we had connected only infrequently through common experiences. After all, how much of Real Life could I expect to cram into each twenty-minute classroom session, interrupted by the students' insistence on text messaging, and our collective inability to keep to a topic?
After four years, I changed my tactics, and teamed up with a young man who loved God with his whole soul. I thought, if anyone can get through to these kids, he can. He had a livelier testimony to share than I, one that the kids more readily related to. Drugs, illicit sex, and juvi court had tied knots in his reputation, but these things made his redemption in Christ stand out all the more clearly. He was so clean of soul that at first I mistook him for a mama's boy, and a virgin. Then he began telling us what God had done in his life. Our classroom size grew, and soon we had students ranging in age from 12 to nearly 30 years old. They all were looking desperately for something to rescue them from the damage they had inflicted on their souls.
Still, try as we might, we could not make God big enough to them, in those twenty minutes per week, to cause their hearts to turn. They stumbled blind, and my co-teacher and I agonized over each of them in one-on-one prayer meetings, with God in our midst.
Over the next year, throughout these meetings, I felt Him nudging me toward a path I was loath to trod. It was the path of resistance to the Standard, which I felt was held out like a limbo bar for us teachers to bend beneath. Not that I hadn't longed to stand up and knock that bar flying, or jump over it and never give it a second glance - but wouldn't that be rebellion against the authorities God had set in place?
The more my co-teacher and I talked about how to reach our students' hearts, the more I realized God was speaking similarly to both of us. Neither of us was eager to wear more labels, but...it was insanity to pretend that a code of holiness was ever going to win hearts. Only the freedom and bigness of the nature of Christ could do that.
My hesitations were stamped out one Sunday during youth group, when the students were playing around on the stage after we had made praise to our Maker. One of the young men, a guest, picked up a guitar and played a riff that shook me to my very morrow. I remained outwardly still, but drank in and stored up the beauty which this Metallica copycat had produced. Something pulled at my gut, and while I couldn't match the feelings with specific memories, something whispered, "Isn't this the same mystery that forced you into God's arms?" That afternoon, I made up my mind to delve into my student's lives, to find the triggers that would send them shooting off in God's direction. It was a dangerous business, and risky to the health of my reputation - this deliberate seeking of potential taboos. But it had to be done.
Carefully I prepared a list of questions on many topics, which I sensed were crucial to the lives of my students. Things like - God's view of divorce and His plan for holy marriage; role playing games and the creatures that tend to go along with them; what a demon can and cannot do to a person in Christ; the truth about clairvoyance and similar powers; and, of course, music genres in light of Good and Evil. I presented my list to the Pastor, and asked for his opinions on the topics, explaining that I wanted to broaden my teaching platform. We talked at some length on my views and experiences with these things, and I sought to make it crystal clear why our children needed an education in these matters, and that they were getting one anyway - from the world. This man had a 13-year-old daughter in the class; I knew he would be adamant on these questions one way or another.
It turned out that he was unable to embrace my vision, and without further discussion, I was dismissed from teaching, and from all other public positions within the church.
Meanwhile, my co-teacher had brought up his own questions - doctrinal ones - and had likewise been dismissed when he refused to concede the pastor's point of view. They had debated whether God can "force" someone to submit to His love. My co-teacher said Yes - God had, with him - and the pastor said No - Man's free will cannot be thus manipulated.
Heart-broken, I banished myself from that church group. What was left there? In one fell swoop, I had lost an irreplaceable friend (my co-teacher immediately left the area, seeking God's best for his life), a church family, and six years' worth of work with my students.
Of course, the work had not really been lost, and I knew that somewhere in it all, God was still working. But I longed to see where.
Over the next few months, as I tried to find my place in His plans, He brought me repeatedly back to the scene of that young man, the guest student, up on the stage playing the Metallica riff. One afternoon, in something like spite, I got on the Internet and let some of my favorite Metallica songs play. "The Unforgivens", all three versions, ripped at my conscience until I realized: they were a message, from a soul that I had almost trodden under the carpet rather than risk losing my reputation among God's people. Over and over again I played the songs, and others, until I was sure of the message I had received.
"Pray for me. Are you praying for me?" came the question like a cold breeze through my soul. "Yes, and I have been," I answered, knowing that somehow, God was communicating this to the man who had so long ago woken me up to the Gospel of the Living God, through the message of his god, who had failed. Over the next several days, I nearly sprained my soul in prayer for James Hetfield. Weary, I was reminded of him at waking, before retiring for the night, and often, in between times. I fed my mind on his music, trying to understand more fully what, exactly, he needed from me. As the ideas came, at first in a trickle, then torrentially, I brought them before the throne of God, and begged for his soul.
I began praying for his fellow band members in the same intense way, and did research into their lives, to find out their needs.
I don't yet see the full fruit of my prayers, in the band's behavior while on tour. I know only that they are already providing to my children a similar ministry that they provided to me. My little children are happy when they hear Metallica, because I have told them how God is working in James' life, and in those of his friends. Sometimes, we pray for them together, also their wives and children.
I long still, as on that childhood evening, to tell James he was wrong – that my God had endured and then conquered the cross, and had shot up from the grave with the keys of Death and Hades in His hands; that now He holds out peace and hope and healing with both arms. How the nail prints stay, but only because they are proof of His victory over death. I long to tell James what God set in motion those sixteen years ago when, through his music, He righted my soul.
I wish, too, that the Sunday School class had been allowed to be a little less "holy" - a lot more practical, allowing my co-teacher and I to meet the students on their own ground, and lead them toward repentance. Maybe then the students would have learned firsthand about God's intense, passionate love, with which He longs to meet each one of them on their own dark roads, bringing His unfailing Light for their deliverance.
But I am a realist. I know that I may never get the opportunity my heart craves, to tell James face to face how a compassionate God has used him. So I’ve written it here instead.
Maybe it will get back to him.
Anyway…if we ever do come face to face, I’ll have some apologies to make. Out of the own ugliness of my heart, I called him a fool of the worst kind. Matthew 5:22 – “But I say to you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Now I know better than to stand in judgment over things I know little about…like James' growing up.
Lars, James, Robert, Kirk - God's best to you all.
Metallica's Black Album, Which Changed My Life
What James Hetfield Says About His Own Journey
"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written,
He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
- I Corinthians 1:22-31
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