It’s a scary and amazing time, isn’t it? It seems like everything is being shaken. Have you ever lived through so much change in such a short period? Is anything the same as it was just three or four months ago? I saw a poll recently that said 80% of Americans think society is out of control – it’s easy to see why, isn’t it? We don’t really feel secure or comfortable about much of anything right now. Even as believers, I think it’s hard to keep a proper perspective on a world seemingly coming off the rails. That’s why I think it might be good to look at what’s going on from two different angles – one temporal, one eternal – to help us keep our minds right as we fight the uncertainty and anxiety that threaten to overwhelm us.
First, let’s remember history. I know there are differences, but in some ways it’s like we’re reliving the late sixties. Think about it. They had Vietnam, an issue that originated in Asia, killed thousands of Americans, caused people to rebel against how the government handled it and divided the country largely along party lines. We have the Coronavirus (to be fair, it’s kind of a mirror image of Vietnam – instead of the left resisting the draft, we have the right resisting shelter-in-place orders – and I know the similarity breaks down in that we didn’t choose the virus). They had Richard Nixon, a polarizing Republican president universally loathed by the media and Hollywood. We have Donald Trump. They had race riots. We have race riots. They had the Apollo Space Mission, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise tense and challenging time. We have the Space-X rocket launch. Lots of similarities, aren’t there?
Right at the end of the sixties The Temptations released a song on the Motown label that seemed to perfectly encapsulate the age. The song was called Ball of Confusion. It reflected an enormously uncertain time where society seemed to be coming apart and everything was changing all at once. It expressed the mood of the era – nothing is the same and no one knows where we’re heading. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
If you read the lyrics it’s easy to pick up references that work just as well today. Racism, division, distrust of establishment and authority, violence, fear, unemployment, even rocket launches. It’s all there in a fifty-year-old song. And that’s really worth considering. What we’re facing today – as scary and incredible as it is – has been faced to some extent before. The country has been through times like these and survived. It doesn’t mean things will be the same as they were – I think we can say most assuredly they won’t (which, like all change, will likely be both good and bad) – but there’s no reason to think we won’t weather the storm. History does repeat itself and it’s reassuring to know that past generations faced some of the same issues we face today and the country survived and remained intact.
I’ve included the lyrics to Ball of Confusion below. You may want to listen to the song as you read through them since they don’t really work as a stand-alone poem. If you listen you’ll find that the music has a frantic desperation to it. Everything is nuts, society is out of control and no one knows what the future holds. And as you listen and read you’ll pick out things that seem like they’re written just as much for 2020 as for 1970. Also, make sure to catch the groovy psychedelic vibe at the beginning – it’s heavy and far out, man.
People movin’ out, people movin’ in.
Why, because of the color of their skin.
Run, run, run, but you sho’ can’t hide
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on.
Well, the only person talkin’ ’bout love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation,
humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball Of Confusion that’s what the world is today (yeah, yeah)
The sale of pills is at an all time high
Young folks walkin’ ’round with their heads in the sky
Cities aflame in the summer time, and oh the beat goes on
Evolution, revolution, gun control, the sound of soul,
Shootin’ rockets to the moon, kids growin’ up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will solve ev’rything, and the band played on.
Round and round and around we go, where the world’s headed nobody knows.
Great googa mooga, can’t you hear me talkin’ to you, just a
Ball of Confusion that’s what the world is today. (yeah, yeah)
Fear in the air, tension ev’rywhere
Unemployment rising fast, the Beatle’s new record’s a gas,
And the only safe place to live is on an Indian reservation,
And the band played on
Eve of destruction, tax deduction,
City inspectors, bill collectors, mod clothes in demand,
Population out of hand, suicide too many bills, hippies movin’ to the hills
People all over the world are shouting end the war; and the band played on.
Round and round and around we go, where the world’s headed nobody knows.
Great googa mooga, can’t you hear me talkin’ to you, just a
Ball of Confusion that’s what the world is today
Let me hear you, let me hear you, let me hear you
Ball Of Confusion that’s what the world is today
A couple of things about the lyrics. I’ve been listening to this song since I was a kid (I was only 6 or 7 when the song came out but my older brother was a Temptations fan so I listened to them when he played their records) and until I looked up the lyrics for this post I had no idea what they were saying in the line, “…the Beatles’ new record’s a gas”. I always mumbled through that line when I sang along. I also have no idea what “Great googa mooga” means. I have a feeling that if you were engaging in some psychedelic extracurriculars back in the day it made more sense. Also, you see the line that reads “Cities aflame in the summer time”? I always thought that was, “Sin is a shame for the other guy.” I thought it was a line about hypocrisy and it’s actually a line about violence and rioting. You have to admit; my line works and fits the cadence and theme of the song.
So the song resonates, doesn’t it? We’re going through all kinds of change, but others felt what we feel today and survived. We’ve largely been here before. But that’s only the first angle to influence your perspective. There’s something else that’s actually much more vital to the believer: we know who sovereignly controls the madness. We know who is Lord over the uncertainty. And when you consider that, there are some things that should jump out.
First, think about how easy it is for God to turn our world upside down. One event in Wuhan, China, brought the world to its knees. We may think we’re technologically advanced and the most self-sufficient generation ever, but God superintended one action and affected literally every human on earth within a few months. It’s astounding from that perspective to consider what God can do.
Second, and along those same lines, remember that if God is the sovereign ruler of all things, then what we’re going through is ultimately good for us and for His kingdom. That may be hard to get our minds around. As bizarre and scary and uncertain as the world seems, nothing is beyond His plan, His will, or His rule and everything works for the ultimate good of His children and kingdom. So there’s a reason for this. It’s not random and from a cosmic perspective it’s not out of control. God has this and God has us. And that means we can trust our loving heavenly Father to watch over us and use the crazy events around us for His ends and our good. Think about what James says about hard times. He says we should rejoice in trials (Jas 1:2-4) because trials make us more useful for God’s kingdom. Thus what we’re living through is good because God controls it and uses it to make us more effective for Him. That’s ultimately much more important than our security, our health, or our prosperity.
Third, are you more or less comfortable in this life? Are you more or less confident in the future? Do you think that perhaps one of the reasons God has allowed what He’s allowed is to get His people a little less invested in this world? In the west especially, isn’t it true that we don’t think much about the next life because this one is so good? So if this one isn’t so good anymore, is that a sign that maybe we should focus a little more on the next? Remember, God never promises us comfort; He promises to make us more like His Son (Phil 1:6, Rom 8:28-29). And maybe getting our world shaken such that we aren’t quite as enamored with it as we were before is part of that process.
Fourth – and this goes right along with the third point – shouldn’t the fact that this isn’t our home affect our perspective on what’s happening around us? It’s okay to be active, to demonstrate, to be involved and concerned, but if eternity is the goal, should we assign ultimate status to economic and social developments in the USA? If you read the Gospels, do you see Jesus getting involved or overly concerned about the political events of His day? He lived under brutal Roman occupation and the totality of His political pronouncements was, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Otherwise He went about building His Father’s kingdom and ushering in the gospel. Might our overall mental state and anxiety level be healthier if we simply stopped thinking of America as our Promised Land and only home? And might it affect how we think about and treat those with whom we disagree politically?
So what are the lessons here? From a horizontal perspective, take heart that history repeats itself and we’ve been here before to some extent. Remember The Temptations. Rehearse the song. And if you’re wigged out by the polarization in our country, don’t just go back to the 1960s, go back to the 1860s when we went to war against each other and over 700,000 Americans died at the hands of other Americans (roughly equivalent as a proportion of the population to 7 million deaths today). THAT’S polarized.
From a much larger perspective, take heart that your heavenly Father is in charge and does only what’s ultimately best for you. He died for you. He loves you. He does whatever is necessary to make you more like Jesus so you can glorify Him. And He sovereignly rules the universe. If you find yourself chronically insecure during these scary and uncertain times, rehearse these three truths: God is sovereign. God is good. God loves me.
4 thoughts on “Ball of Confusion”
Wow, Rob Loy a Temptations fan back in the day, whuda thunk it?! But amazing parallels, and, as usual, crystal clear and accurate analysis from the Numbers Boss. Well done, Rob, thanks.
Thanks Nate! They were definitely more your era at Grace College/Wheaton than mine 😊, but having a brother 8 years older introduced me to lots of music from the early seventies.
Rob – At age 87 your timeline stretches back still further, memory recounting the last several years of the Great Depression. I connect the Civil War to World War II in the memory of a young kid. I remember in my deep-South hometown, parades on Confederate Memorial Day. The ancient survivors of the “Army of the Lost Cause” headed the parade in convertibles. The first I recall was in 1939. Four older white-bearded guys in two convertibles. Then, in 1940, one convertible, only two survivors. 1941, only one.
In 1939 I finished kindergarten and was ready for first grade. One of my assigned “chores” was to fetch the morning paper on the front porch. We learned in kindergarten to read by the old system of phonetics. In my minds eye I can still recall that September morning going out to get the paper, looking down at the giant black headlines, then sounding out aloud,”Na-zi’s in-vade Po-land.”
Pearl Harbor day is a bit long to record on your blog. Someday at lunch.
But,WW II defined my generations boyhood. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, gathering scrap metal, visiting German prisoner of war camp in Spartanburg; the small blue and gold stars in front wonders of the homes. One particularly sticks from Stone Avenue: the little frame hung in a font window had four stars – two blue, two gold. Our street was dappled with those stars, thankfully all blue but one. Two. Robbins boys across the street, the Skinner family’s two sons next door; below the Skinner’s, Joe Garrett from the next house. Then my buddy, Leroy Sharp’s father; two boys in the Lyle family; and one lad at the bottom of the hill who was lost, whose family name I cannot recall.
Five years after it was over, my turn came, and almost 18 months in the Korean War. That also was much too long for your blog.
But when I compare the magnificent divine protection and guidance, time-after-time from the Civil War through WW I and II and Korea, with the growing indifference to -ndeed, degradation of – Judeo-Christian morality and ethics from that era, and see the accumulating disasters of the past several decades, dare I doubt that this has nation has brought itself under the judgment of God?
Al – the touchpoints in your life are amazing. I know you’ve said that your grandfather actually fought in the Civil War – that’s incredible. And having those touchpoints gives you a unique perspective on all that’s happening. I think knowing and remembering history keeps things in their proper relative perspective. It’s a perspective many today don’t have. Thanks for sharing that – and while I don’t know if God is judging the nation, it’s pretty apparent that He’s acting all over it.