The God That Failed: A Theoclasm in the Making

4 Aug


Is it actually possible to construct good theology from a secular heavy metal band? Thomas Aquinas reportedly stated, “If someone says something true, you don’t ask ‘Who said it?’ but rather, ‘Is it true?'”

In a YouTube interview with the Metallica frontman, James Hetfield describes the process of writing the song The God That Failed. It turns out that Hetfield was raised by parents who were firm believers in Christian Science beliefs. Christian Scientists, among other things, do not believe in making use of traditionally-practiced medical science, doctors, or conventional medicine (such as antibiotics, aspirin etc), when a person falls ill, or contracts a disease of some sort.

Its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, argued in her 1875 book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, that ill health and sicknesses are mere illusions that can be healed through the practice of prayer alone. Hetfield, raised in such an environment, speaks in the interview of how alienated he felt as a young child growing up in school because of his belief system. To his intense embarrassment, he would always have to explain to his classmates why he needed to be excused from all health class sessions, why he didn’t need a physical to play sports, and so on. He states, “I wasn’t supposed to learn about the [human] body, because this is just a shell for your soul….and you don’t need to know about it, because you’re never going to the doctor, and God will fix whatever ails you.”[1] As a child of 7, he felt profoundly alienated by these embarrassing experiences.

Therefore, he explains, The God that Failed is his attempt to revisit “some of that alienation, and the repercussions of it all.” It wasn’t an attempt to attack religion or Christianity in general, claims Hetfield, but it was rather his efforts to return to his childhood–and serve as a sort of therapy to himself for what he experienced growing up in such an atmosphere.

And what exactly was Hetfield’s experience? As he grew up, and came to see that the Christian Scientist version of God wasn’t a helpful God, who oftentimes didn’t heal sick people, and then they died. As a result, he became disillusioned with that version of God he’d been taught to believe. Therefore, the song reflects his journey out of that belief system, because—that God had failed. The lyrics state:

Pride you took
Pride you feel
Pride that you felt when you’d kneel
Not the word
Not the love
Not what you thought from above

It feeds (it feeds)
It grows (it grows)
It clouds all that you will know
Decide just what you believe

I see faith in your eyes
Never you hear the discouraging lies
I hear faith in your cries
Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by the deepened nail
Follow the god that failed

Find your peace
Find your say
Find the smooth road on your way
Trust you gave
A child to save
Left you cold and him in grave.

Has Your God Failed You?

Therefore, for Hetfield and so many others, the version of God he’d been taught to believe in turned out to be…the God that failed. And this is my question to you: can you dare to question, and possibly revise, the version of God that you’ve been taught to believe? Because here’s a very scary thought that should shake you down to the very core of your soul: maybe, just maybe…the version of God you’ve been taught to believe in—isn’t the correct one after all.

Perhaps it’s an angry or vengeful God; maybe the God you’ve been taught to believe in “isn’t angry, but he’s just disappointed in you.” Why is he so disappointed, anyway? Many reasons, but most likely it’s because you haven’t been reading your Bible faithfully, and praying to him every single day. You haven’t been evangelizing enough, telling your friends, relatives, neighbours and co-workers about your beliefs.

In that case, you’re caught in what is termed “the performance trap”—in other words, you believe that somehow your relationship with God is dependent on you performing. You must earn his favor, earn his love for you, like a little child desperately doing all sorts of things that she believes will finally get her disinterested and emotionally distant daddy finally to admit (grudgingly, perhaps)? “I love you, honey.”

It’s not that we believe that we’re earning our salvation—no, we’ve already received that golden ticket to heaven when we mouthed the words to the sinner’s prayer those many years ago. We feel safe and secure in our salvation, thankfully, but now what? Clutching our entrance pass to heaven, what do we do with the rest of our lives now? We’re in the club—we’re going to that great chocolate factory in the sky—so what are we supposed to do with the remaining years?

This is the answer the church gives us, at least, when newbies become Christians: attend church services regularly, participate in worship, listen to the sermon faithfully every week; buy a Bible and read it consistently, tithe regularly, help out around the building, get involved in some ministries around the church, and that’s pretty much it for the rest of your life. God will be pleased with you, and thus when you finally do get to heaven, and use that golden ticket to gain entrance, you’ll get a whole lot of extra rewards when you check into your mansion in the sky, and an angel hands you that harp to play while sitting on a cloud.

If that’s the version of God in which you believe, it’s time for a theoclasm. Where to start? This can begin by listening to the podcast episode on the subject that Gary Hayes and I did, that helps you to begin to deconstruct your views on God, and to question what you believe. If your faith is constructed of pat answers, airtight black-and-white theology, and unquestioned interpretations of Scripture that your preacher offers up every week, then it most likely won’t be able to stand up to very many hard questions.


[1] YouTube, “James Hetfield—The God That Failed Interview.” (Accessed 10th April 2017).

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