My last T.O.P. for a while…
…but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again? (Gal 4:9)
I just came across another remarkable Twenty One Pilots song, called Goner.
It’s a very gentle and plaintive song, and, as with so many of their songs, it is an exploration of the inner conflicts that characterize human life.
The story Tyler tells sounds so much like the internal struggle St. Paul describes so vividly in Romans chapter 7. For example, vs. 15,
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
We are all in some very fundamental sense thus riven within, two-faced, unable to consistently be the person we want and know we should be. This inner schism, with its relentless tensions, can create terrible anxiety and hopelessness, as St. Paul evidences in vs. 24,
Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
The resolution for Paul is clear. Only the gift of God in Jesus Christ poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit can free me from this inner war. Only by welcoming within the Spirit of Jesus, who makes His own our agonized groaning and makes them redemptive (Rom. 8:26-27) can we know inner peace.
I want to be known by a God who knows well humanity’s griefs and has entered into them (Ex. 3:7; Is. 53:4; Jn. 11:33-35). I want Him to know my griefs and pains and anxieties, closely and intimately.
In this song, Tyler seems to have lost hope (“I’m a goner”), weighted under the burden of his struggle for authenticity. He gasps for breath, hyperventilating, constricted by the inner storm of anxiety. He deeply regrets his two-faces. “Face” is a meaningful metaphor. In Scripture it serves as a “sacramental” outward sign of our truest inward self, i.e. the image of God. The face is an epiphany, and when our face is true it reveals that image of God that is stamped into each of us. Tyler’s “blurry face” represents the distortions masking his true inner self. He’s controlled by others’ opinions and judgments, is not confident in the truth of who he is, in his gifts or in his life-mission. He longs for clarity, to be set free from his inauthentic blurry face.
No doubt being thrust into fame, and into the machinations of the entertainment industry, has presented Tyler with innumerable challenges. “Who will I be in my emerging public persona?” (persona, incidentally, is Latin word for “face”) This is the challenge that we all face when we leave our safe environments, where authenticity seems natural, and enter into new contexts where what we believe and how we act is put into question. Being true to yourself everywhere you find yourself is a learned art, a long labor of virtue that requires passage through purgative fires.
Tyler sees all of this swirling about him and turns to his music as a means of prayer. He desperately wants to be known by the God of authenticity and peace, whose (Holy) Ghost is so close to him. The same Ghost who breathed into him the breath of life in the beginning (Gen. 2:7) can now help him catch his breath, free him from anxiety and duplicity. Though Tyler is twisted “inside-out” by all of this turmoil, God is there with him, beneath him, to catch him.
It’s a profoundly consoling image that Tyler paints. It reminds me very much of the Breastplate of St. Patrick.
The sound of this song that he “slips away into” is the sound of prayer. His voice and the music remains very gentle throughout most of the song, but suddenly — so much their style — it explodes out into a desperate and heart-wrenching cry to God: “Don’t let me be!…”
Like a little child, utterly terrified of being abandoned, left alone.
It’s very moving, especially if you have tasted hopelessness in life and known this cry.
Here is the video with lyrics: