Codex

My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!





Software for Biblical Studies

  • Searches



Addendum to U2 Spiritually Significant Songs: The First Time

16th August 2006

I was chatting with a Ken Ristau today and he wondered why “The First Time” (Lyrics; from Zooropa 1993; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) wasn’t on my list of spiritually significant U2 songs. I was dumbfounded since we were talking about it when I was compiling my list and I was going to include it, but somehow it fell through the cracks. I would like to add it now; if I have to take a song off my list to make room for it, then I would take “40″ (adding it to my list also inlcudes a song from Zooropa, which makes my list a bit more representative).

This mournful song is one of U2′s most theological. While on one level this song could be read as a love song or as a reflection on one’s family, on another perhaps more theologically profound level it is a reflection on the Trinity and our human tendency to squander God’s love and grace.

Here are the lyrics in full:

I have a lover, a lover like no other
She got soul soul soul, sweet soul
And she teach me how to sing
Shows me colours when there’s none to see
Gives me hope when I can’t believe
But for the first time I feel love

I have a brother when I’m a brother in need
I spend my whole time running
He spends his running after me
I feel myself goin’ down
I just call and he comes around
But for the first time I feel love

My father is a rich man, he wears a rich man’s cloak
Gave me the keys to his kingdom coming
Gave me a cup of gold
He said ‘I have many mansions
And there are many rooms to see’
But I left by the back door
And I threw away the key
And I threw away the key
Yeah, I threw away the key
Yeah, I threw away the key

For the first time
For the first time
For the first time I feel love

The first stanza is about the Holy Spirit (appropriately pictured as a female) who woos the implied author and gives him hope and love. The second is portrays the Son as the redeemer who searches out sinners and comes when called. The final stanza (which disambiguates the prior stanzas since the allusions to God the Father are unmistakable; see Matthew 16, Luke 15, John 14) portrays God the Father as showering his grace on the implied author, yet the singer rejects this love and throws it away; “But I left by the back door / And I threw away the key”!

Some Christian fans were scandalized this song, assuming that it was Bono or U2 “throwing away the key” (i.e., losing his/their faith). While many of U2′s songs appear to be autobiographical, they don’t have to be read that way. Whoever the implied “I” in the song is, it is precisely the part about throwing away the key that appeals to me. It is brutally honest — the Triune God showers his love on us and for the first time we experience what love is all about, but then we squander it. We leave through the back door and throw away the key.

During the Vertigo tour, Bono would at times change the ending of the song. Sometimes he would sing “Yeah, I threw away the key / God gave it back to me / and for the first time I felt love” (Milwaukee 2005) while other times he changed the ending to “But I left by the back door / But I didn’t throw away the key / For the first time / For the first time / I feel love / Shows me colours when there’s none to see / Gives me faith when I can’t believe / For the first time I feel love” (Chicago 2005). While I think I like the original version best (its a bit more edgy), the first alternative version highlights God’s unbelievable grace even more!


One Response to “Addendum to U2 Spiritually Significant Songs: The First Time”

  1. Chip Says:

    Actually, I’ve always seen it a different way: The speaker truly feels love only AFTER “throwing away the key.” For some people, it takes a prodigal experience to truly feel the love of God. You can’t know how much you’re loved until after you’ve been lifted up from the miry clay that you’ve gotten yourself into (to mix U2 song/biblical metaphors). Isn’t that the essence of what happened to the prodigal son?

    Peace of Christ,
    Chip