Help me Polarize

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

One of my Scripture professors years ago said:

The goal of reading the Scriptures with faith [aka lectio divina] is to allow the biblical stories to become your stories, to allow them to weave into your life so deeply that you begin to think of your life in their terms. That way you don’t just think ‘about’ Scripture, but you think ‘out of’ Scripture. Jesus told parables not so we could struggle over them like some logic puzzle, but so we would see the world through them.

When I first heard the Twenty One Pilots Song, Polarize, I felt powerfully their capacity to see the world “out of” the parable of the Prodigal Son. Let me take a shot at capturing its meaning, though not without remainder as there are a number of images and sounds I will not mention. Here’s some notes I jotted down after listening to it one night.

When I first heard it, what I sensed immediately in both the lyrics and sounds was the visceral anguish of the prodigal son, languishing in throes of famine, close to starvation and death, plagued by shame over a betrayal of both his father and his brother. This son-brother “lost his halo” in the nighttime of his exile among the swine herds, which represent the son’s abandonment of God’s Law and resulting desperation. His alienation from God has set Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day, on fire (Domingo en fuego = “Sunday on fire”). His God-touched searing conscience now stirs him, beckoning him to run back to his father. You can hear the agony of living with so many “disguises,” with hypocrisies (hypokrisis means to ‘act’ or ‘pretend’), as well as his desire to recover the authenticity of his true identity as a son of the Father and as a brother of humanity. He, and his friends who share his plight, want to be better. They want to parse out within themselves — or, better, have God parse out — what is right from what is wrong. That’s the promise of the new heart and new spirit in Ezekiel 36:26-27. The singer wants to escape his repeated denials (3x), his cycles of compromise, and learn to live according to the law of love of God and neighbor, i.e. to “be a better brother, better son.”

The whole song is spoken to God as a prayerful colloquy, offered up by a lost and penitent soul who longs to be found by his Father. Though he wants to run to God, he finds that he is still weak, stumbles, finds himself unable to break free from the pull of the night. He wants God to “polarize,” separate within himself good and evil. Only God can save him from his incessant inner compromises with evil and sort out the human mess. In fact, the whole song bears within it — to me, simply and brilliantly — the agonizing inner “fight” found in St. Paul’s public confession in Romans 7:14-25. We are the problems, indeed! This radical confession of powerlessness, this cry out from the depths to God, is what makes the climactic line of the song so exquisite:

I don’t know where you are
You’ll have to come and find me, find me

He screams these words to God. Wow! A desperate plea lifted up to a running Father (Luke 15:20) who spies him from a distance and goes out to find, meet, embrace, clothe and celebrate his rescue. Even the very last lines of the song linger in the feelings of longing and lamenting regret, have the feeling of a plaintive call, three-times repeated, and backed by the sound of a church organ.

What a powerful expreession of gut-felt faith. Listen to the whole song (with good speakers if you can) if you feel drawn in by this:

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