From Now On (with a great backstory)
This last song on the soundtrack seems, in some ways, the most “gospel-y.” There’s a little flourish in the piano before the first chorus that has a gospel flair, and the sound, once the song gets ramped up, is very reminiscent of contemporary Christian music’s Rend Collective.
The theme is at least in part reminiscent of a core Christian message, that the essence of sanctification of a life is the stripping away of all that is not holy, until all that’s left is reliant on God. So while Barnum is singing to his circus family, the words could be offered by a Christian who has weathered similar hard times as prayer.
A man learns who is there for him
When the glitter fades and the walls won’t hold
‘Cause from then, rubble
Can only be what’s true
If all was lost
There’s more I gained
Cause it led me back
Per the discussion earlier about how easy it is for those who have earthly success to embrace it as the source of their meaning rather than faith, the second verse echoes both the seduction of fame and power and the ultimate emptiness of it.
I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for
It’s valuable to sit with this insight for a while, but I’m afraid I’ve already beaten the point into the ground in my earlier posts, so let me close with a different reflection from the song. Pasek and Paul weave two mantras into the chorus, “From now on,” (which is hearkens back to St. Paul’s call in 2 Corinthians 6 that “now is an acceptable time”) and “Come back home.” Literally, the “home” Barnum et al. refer to is a bar, which…, but more broadly, they are talking about a return to the circus life from which their family formed.
But some Christians hear “home” as “heaven,” not in this song but more generally. So let me talk about the afterlife for a minute, even though it has nothing directly to do with the show.
Among some of my non-believing friends, religious belief is sometimes equated with belief in an afterlife. This cuts both ways – while some ridicule religious folk for believing in life after death, others are a little wistful that they can’t find it in themselves to believe in an afterlife.
To be fair, many people of faith also focus on heaven and hell as a key motivator for faith. This is often how we open an evangelical call, at least if church marquees are any indication. My favorite is a New Year’s Day homily I heard a young priest give (he didn’t claim authorship): “Last night you raised it. Today, you feel like it. Repent, or you will inhabit it.”
I don’t find that line of reasoning particularly motivating. Nor do I find its opposite, extolling the joys of heaven, all that persuasive. It’s not that I don’t believe in an afterlife; it’s just that I think if your purpose for faith is achieving a heavenly reward, you’re missing the point of the whole thing.
Faith is not about a transaction but about a relationship. When we say we believe in God so that we can go to heaven, we reduce faith to an investment plan, where we contribute in order to achieve a future payout. I don’t believe that’s what God wants.
God wants a loving relationship with us, his creation. Love isn’t something you can commit to starting at a future date – you wouldn’t say to someone, “I don’t love you now, but I plan to begin loving you in five years, so let’s talk then.” Love happens in the now, and while it can grow with time and practice, if what we commit to is love, we commit to it today.
Now it may be that my beloved isn’t with me this moment but may be in the future. That doesn’t negate my love for my beloved right now; it simply means that when we are reunited, I will be able to experience and express that love in profoundly better ways. But even in my beloved’s absence, I can still soak in that love, and even when the separation is painful, the love is fulfilling.
That is how I can best describe my thoughts on the afterlife. To the extent that I love God now, I experience God’s love for me now, too, and it is wonderful. It is enough as it is to “justify” the relationship. If a better way to live out that love comes later, super. If not, this is enough. We experience heaven (the loving presence of God) and hell (the absence of relationship with God) now, in each moment. What comes after death, I suspect, is an amplified version of how we live today.
So if heaven is one of those things that “has waited for tomorrow, start tonight.”
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