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A Stairway to Heaven

September 09, 2013

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photo credit: Raymond Larose via photopin cc

The most popular rock song of all time has to be Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” To this day, more than 40 years after its release, it is still the most requested song in the English-speaking world.

There are probably as many explanations for its popularity as there are listeners. Part of it, I think, must be that it is musically and beautifully complex. It fails to fit the stereotype of rock and roll with loud drums and long guitar solos. It has acoustic sections. It changes tempo and meter throughout. It rises to a concert-changing crescendo. It leads the audience onward and upward creatively.

Yet, it’s something more. The song tells the tale of a woman who thought worldly possessions were the way to happiness. She believed “all that glitters is gold” only to find out that money is not the key, that heaven is not for sale. With a wealth of musical intrigue and lyrics that walk a narrow path between the profound and the profane, “Stairway to Heaven” spoke to souls searching for but never finding lasting meaning in the 1970s.

The song still speaks to music fans today because it tells the common tale of wanderers trying to find their way home. Created in the image of God, created to fellowship with God, humans, by nature, clamor for the divine. As John Calvin, one of the Protestant Reformers, said 500 years ago, “humans are incurably religious.” That is, we are irresistibly drawn heavenward. There is an innate homesickness that lies dormant in each of us until one day we realize that we’re short for this world and long for another.

While every world religion has its own answer to the great questions in life – where did we come from? what’s wrong in the world? – only Christianity offers more than a glimpse of heaven, of glory divine. Christianity tells us how to get there. It tells of God’s great love for us. It tells of God’s own Son who came to show us a new and better way to heaven, one that offers not only the promise of eternal bliss but real hope. As the writer of Hebrews explains, “we have confidence to enter the holy places [of heaven] by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain [that once separated man from God], that is through his flesh [his life and sacrificial death]” (Hebrews 10:19).

You see, there is a stairway to heaven. It’s paved not with gold or fame, but the blood Christ who has made it possible for sinful humans to have everlasting access to God. But we must realize, as the song acknowledged, “there are two paths you can go by,” what the Bible calls the broad way and the narrow way. Are you, like the famed woman in the song, traveling the easy road of earthly treasures to presumed happiness that is ultimately a dead end? Or, are you following Christ on the narrow road that leads to heaven? The good news is, just as the song reminds, “there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Peter Beck_headshot 2Dr. Peter Beck
Associate Professor of Christian Studies
Director of the Honors Program