How a popular song, 40 by U2, reveals our universal desire to cry out to God in suffering.
(Pastor and Colon Cancer Survivor)
As a child of the 80s, I love some of the greatest music ever made, including 40 by U2. And even more than just something good to listen to, this song points to a deep human yearning—the desire to cry out to God through life’s questions and greatest tragedies.
These are themes I have certainly thought about. I am the lead pastor of a church in Pennsylvania and I have been fighting stage IV colon cancer, off and on, since 2016. You can read my story here.
Music has always been important to me. And I believe that music helps open the door to reveal the cry of the human heart.
If you had a chance to look at my I-Pod, you would soon realize my musical tastes fall all over the map. As a total aside, I just learned, that it is no longer hip to have an I-Pod. My friends have teased me about this “ancient piece of technology.”
The Power of U2’s 40
With music, U2 often weaves spiritual themes throughout much of their songs, which connects with people, as evidenced by the thousands of people who still pack out stadiums to see them.
U2 often plays 40, which is based on Psalm 40 from the Bible, at the end of their concerts. As they walk off the stage, people will continue to sing it together, sometimes even for several minutes afterward.
I don’t know about all of the specific of beliefs of U2, but the spiritual themes in some of their music speak loudly.
Check out the lyrics of 40:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song”
There is something equally universal and sacred in the cry of How Long oh Lord? How long must I cry out? How long must I wait before I am heard?
The universal yearning
When I was first received my cancer diagnosis and started treatment, I played 40 by U2 on loop for an entire night in the hospital, as it seemed to sum up what I was feeling during that time.
And I am not alone. Whether people come from a spiritual background or not, when they face suffering it often leads them to this deep yearning and crying and calling in their soul.
Disruption and difficulties, like cancer, are inevitable in this life. And much of the Psalms echo this distress beyond Psalm 40, including Psalm 42, which mentions themes of anxiety and stress.
And this is where we live. There are these pressures of life that press in on us and push us down. And in the midst of them, we desire to cry out, like how verse seven says, “Deep calls to deep.”
I have come to understand these words mean it’s the depth of God calling out to the depth of who we are. It’s the fullness and the completeness of God calling out to the fullness and completeness of who we are.
Calling out as spiritual beings
In the midst of a crisis, in the midst of deep anxiety, there is depth in us that wants to call out and cry out to something. U2 40 captures this. We might never have called to God before in our lives, but we are all spiritual beings.
And these verses in Psalms and U2’s 40 reminds us that this desire is actually to call out to God—the one who can help us most and never leave us.
I had some moments like this, while getting chemotherapy, where all I could do was cry out to God and ask why? How long oh Lord? I wrote a book about my experience with cancer, called The Journey Continues: Finding Joy Amidst Life’s Struggles.
For more explanation on why God allows suffering, read this article.
Then we have these moments, where you look out the window and see a beautiful sunset or a sunrise, and there’s this sense of calm and peace and reflection that comes over you. It’s the depth of God calling out to you saying, there is something more going on in this world then what is happening to your body.
And through these moments, we have the opportunity to find encouragement and words of hope that you need—by directly praying to God, reading the Bible, or sometimes God uses a medical worker, friend or family member to bring this to us.
Focus on the spiritual
Many of us have not always paid attention to the spiritual part of our lives. Even if we hear a U2 song or other music that awakens this desire, it doesn’t mean we do anything with it. Yet when we experience a physical affliction, it awakens us to the fullness and completeness of who we are, that perhaps we previously ignored.
We are spiritual beings, and so we need to be open to bringing the depth of who we are to God and listen for what he might say to us.
There can be many barriers to listening. For example, religion says that once you get your life all together, then you can have this wonderful and beautiful relationship with God. Yet, other examples in the Bible show us that your life can be a total train wreck and that’s ok.
An open invitation
God wants to have a relationship with you now, wherever you are at. We don’t need to be religious and clean ourselves up. We can call out to him now, and experience the hope, strength and peace he gives.
The Psalms models this for us, like Psalm 40:1-2:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.”
We can also pray like Psalm 13 and the U2 song ask: “How long oh Lord, how long God until you hear my cry?”
These questions are honest reflections that reveal our desire to have a relationship with God. That’s what it means and that’s why it’s important. And I can say from firsthand experience, this relationship can help you find hope and joy, even in the worst circumstances.
Wherever you are at on your journey, consider this invitation of God calling out to you. By calling back to him, you have the opportunity to find the hope, strength and peace in the depth of who you are to help you face your current challenges.
For more about calling out to God, see Asking God for Help.
Or to begin a relationship with God, read Knowing God Personally.