Chicago 17, “In The Garden”, and Subtle Damage

by Greg Linscott

When I was in high school, my best friend introduced me to the pop/rock group Chicago. If my memory serves me correctly, between the end of my sophomore and senior years, he and I wore out no less than 8 copies of the Chicago 17 tape between the two of us. Even today, I can still reproduce from memory some of the lyrics. I will spare you the exercise of reproducing such winners as “Hard Habit to Break,” “Stay the Night,” and so on. I’m guessing that at least some of you who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s are familiar with the material in question. But let’s look at the fairly innocent song, “You’re The Inspiration”:

You know our love was meant to be
The kind of love to last forever.
And I want you here with me
From tonight until the end of time.
You should know
Everywhere I go
Always on my mind
In my heart, in my soul, Baby-

You’re the meaning in my life,
You’re the inspiration.
You bring feeling to my life-
You’re the inspiration.
While I have you near me
I wanna have you hear me say (yeah)-
“No one needs you more than I need you.”

As someone who now has been married to his lovely wife going on 13 years this February, I must say this really bears little resemblance to what real love between a man and woman is all about. The first verse I’ve quoted here, as I reflect, really bears much more similarity to a sort of adolescent yearning- ah, let’s just call it what it is- it’s lust. “I want you here with me from tonight…” “While I have you near me…” It’s very deceptive, though, because it confuses the immediate satisfaction and gratification of lust with a “love that lasts forever.”

The problem is, this song (and others like it) helped shape my conception and expectation of love for a woman- love for my wife. It helped shape my affection for her in such ways that I may not have realized. Ultimately, as I grow both in my relationship with my God and my wife, I understand more each day that loving my wife has very little to do with infatuation and her constantly “bring(ing) feeling to my life.” Instead, I must realize that as Paul says in Ephesians 5, loving my wife is something that demands sacrifice. Whether or not she is “always on my mind, in my heart, in my soul” has little to do with it- I must choose to love her as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. I love her whether she “deserves” it or not- whether she is “the inspiration” or not.

OK, Linscott, what’s your point?

Earlier this month, my friend Bob explained that the beloved gospel song “In The Garden” should still be valued because it has been treasured by so many older saints. He noted:

…I think it is a good song because, despite the critics, the Church of Jesus Christ seems to see in it more pure emotions than those of secret lovers. There is nothing manifestly evil about the song. There is nothing unbiblical. That thousands of Christians find in it a manifestation of true Christian feelings (or feelings that they wish were true) is not a problem to me.

Here is what I see. I am sure many sincere people miss or overlook the very flawed view of love contained in songs like “You’re The Inspiration.” Some married couples even today may think of such a song as “their song”- and granted, the song seems to have less objectionable elements if we read it into a married context- at least on the surface.

However, even assuming that “You’re The Inspiration” was being sung in a marriage context (after all, to the pure all things are pure, as my friend Bob pointed out), what we are left with, at best, is a very incomplete perspective of love. Love is all about how the one I love makes me feel- it’s all about feeling tingly and warm and fuzzy and “inspired.” It has no concept of work, of tears, of sacrifice, of loving when you don’t feel like loving. Such a “love song,” I would argue, is actually damaging to the sensibilities because it presents a wrong view of the kind of love a man and woman should have for one another. Proverbs 5:18-19 (ESV), for example, tells us

Let your fountain (Greg’s note- that is, your wife) be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.

In the order of things, a man is to find his satisfaction in his wife only after he has made sure she has been blessed. He is to care for her- provide for her- as his own flesh. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that this is common sense, men! Yet this is not the way we view “romantic love” in our modern American culture.

My contention is that songs like “In The Garden” do the same thing to our view of our relationship with God that songs like “You’re The Inspiration” do to our view of love between a man and a woman. They affect our thinking, concepts, and resulting actions in ways we may not even be aware of. And while sincere people may not always see it, that doesn’t mean the damage is any less real.