I doubt anyone ever took Simon and Garfunkel for theologians. It’s a good thing, too, because the words of their well-known hit, I Am a Rock, remind me that I don’t want to be a rock, let alone an island.
I didn’t realize what I was singing back then, but thanks to the extensive vinyl collection my Dad would pull out every Friday night during my high school years, I learned these and other lyrics to all sorts of songs made popular before I was born. Hearing the song now as an adult, I realize it’s quite the paradox with an upbeat and catchy tune but lyrics that are incredibly depressing: I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain / It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain / I am a rock / I am an island. I’m not sure why it became an instant success but obviously people resonated with the symbols. Rocks are strong and islands are self-sustaining.
The Bible according to Simon and Garfunkel then, would be relationships include pain, pain hurts, therefore, don’t be in relationship. I guess people can resonate with that too, can’t we? It’s easier for many of us to put up walls and guard ourselves rather than to let people know the real us. Oh, we can have friends. You know, people we go out to dinner with, see movies and concerts with, even have good discussions with. That exists and is necessary. But I don’t think the folk-singing duo was talking about those kinds of relationships.
In his profound sermon entitled, Friendship, Tim Keller says, “The marks of a true friend are constancy, carefulness, candor, and counsel.” He goes on to say that because these characteristics require great effort, a person with friendships of this magnitude will not have many. I think Jesus was the perfect example of that. He had his group of twelve disciples but within that he had a close bond with Peter, James, and John. John is even described as the “disciple whom [Jesus] loved” (John 19:26).
We might be attracted to the idea of being as strong as a rock but didn’t the apostle Paul remind us, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10)? God’s word is constantly reminding us that we aren’t strong, and that’s one of the reasons we need relationships. We need people to speak constant, careful counsel into our lives, reminding us that our strength comes from our dependency on Christ. It’s impossible for us to self-sustain because we weren’t made for solitary living. The creator of the universe made us for relationship (Eccles. 4:9-10, Prov. 17:17).
Our church gets this and has what we call Life Groups. Maybe yours has Small Groups, or Cell Groups, or Grace Groups. Maybe you don’t call it a group. Maybe you just have two or three other people in your life who know you’re not a rock. A few people who know when you’re sad or mad or confused or hopeless or wreckless. These people are gifts from God to you. The ability to be known by others is a gift. In fact, weakness, the existence of something quite opposite from a rock, is a gift. It's a gift because it points us to what actually is strong, like a rock: Christ.
Look at the song again. The last two lines go like this: And a rock feels no pain / And an island never cries. In order to feel no pain, one has to become numb to his emotions. Numb, as in no feeling whatsoever. Does that sound like the life God calls us to live? “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Simon and Garfunkel. And while I still like their eclectic sound, sometimes my soul just needs a good dose of gospel reality. These days, there’s a song from the group Tenth Avenue North that runs through my head. It has shared imagery from the 60s classic but the message rings true, more true than the folk-rock song ever will: No man is an island, we can be found / No man is an island, let your guard down / You don’t have to fight me, I am for you / We’re not meant to live this life alone.
Now that's good theology.