The Stranger: Billy Joel, Don Henley and Sister Wendy

Having studied my fair share of literature in college, the story of the human condition as reflected through a culture’s artistic endeavors has always been a fascinating subject of interest to me. This realization and expression seems to me to be nothing short of God-given. When you take the time to look, listen, and hear, you almost always discover the echoes of God’s truth. “For the invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20).

In 1977, the Eagles and Billy Joel both enjoyed great success with their respective singles Hotel California and The Stranger. Recently, I heard Don Henley comment on how the message of Hotel California and The Stranger were interestingly about the same thing. See it for yourself:

Well, we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out
And show ourselves when
Everyone has gone
Some are satin, some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of a stranger
But we’d love to try them on.
~Billy Joel, The Stranger

And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
'Relax' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'
~Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Hotel California

Don Henley went on to say that the universal truth conveyed in both these lyrics is the existence of a dark side in all of us. We all have it. We cannot escape it. It is the human experience. Not one of us is immune to mankind’s genetically low anthropology.

As stated earlier, Don Henley and Billy Joel are not the only notable artists to reflect on the darkness of the human condition. In The Story of Painting, Sister Wendy Beckett comments on the artist Hieronymus Bosch:

Eccentric and secret genius that he was, Bosch not only moved the heart, but scandalized it into full awareness. The sinister and monstrous things that he brought forth are the hidden creatures of our inward self-love: he externalizes the ugliness within, and so his misshapen demons have an effect beyond curiosity. We feel a hateful kinship with them. The Ship of Fools is not about other people. It is about us.

These artists and observers are not quoting scripture, yet the universal truths proclaimed in their artistic statements point directly back to God’s word and precisely who scripture proclaims us to be. We are all dark. We are all depraved. We all have a sin nature that always looms. These artists recognize the bad news. We are surrounded by people who recognize the bad news.

 How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news.

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