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Chester Bennington and the Psalms of Lament

Petrusich Chester Bennington

RIP Chester.

On Friday 21 July 2017, my Facebook feed was flooded with posts of condolence and sadness as the news that Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington had hanged himself in his house in LA. I don’t think I’ve seen my Facebook feed so full of posts after the death of a celebrity, and there have been a few celebrity deaths lately. People really felt this one.

Even in Malaysia where I grew up, Linkin Park’s influence was ubiquitous. When they came to Malaysia at the peak of their powers, they packed out the Bukit Jalil national stadium which seated 87,000. I even remember the peers in my church youth group justifying their purchase of Linkin Park CDs saying that there was no profanity in the lyrics which made it OK.

Why were Chester and Linkin Park so successful?

Musically, Linkin Park were a nu metal band. Nu metal is a form of alternative metal that combines heavy metal with elements of other music genres, in this case hip hop. Linkin Park remain the bestselling nu metal band of all time. But what made Linkin Park distinct from the other nu metal bands was Chester Bennington and his raw yet refreshing candour about his suffering. Chester gave voice to the angst of millions. Chester was scintillating in his anguish and angst because it was real. Chester spoke openly about being sexually abused as a child and being gripped by drug and alcohol dependence in his adolescence. His lyrics were marked by an ever-present “you” who was abusing, manipulating and controlling him (“I’m tired of being what you want me to be”, “Every step that I take is another mistake to you”, “Everything you say to me – takes me one step closer to the edge and I’m about to break”).

What can we learn from Linkin Park? Millennials are apparently leaving the church in droves, many of whom grew up on Linkin Park. When I think of the tenor of much of our worship music today, there is an unmistakable sense of victory and triumphalism—a lot of Romans 8 but hardly a hint of Romans 7. As Christians, are we prone to delegitimising or ignoring the angst, anxiety and doubt people experience?

Ironically, modern worship music stands in stark contrast to the Bible’s songbook, the Psalms. There are several types of Psalms but by far the largest category is that of lament. The Psalms of lament give voice to our angst and our frustration; they encourage us to express our deepest anguish to God. There are no trite, easy answers in the Psalms of lament. What these songs give us is permission to question and complain to God. Interestingly, there are both individual laments and communal laments. It seems to me that the people of God are meant to communally and publicly express their sorrow and pain to God as part of their regular rhythms of worship.

What these songs give us is permission to question and complain to God

As brilliant as Chester was at giving voice to the hurt of a generation, he had no answers for his generation and he had no answers for himself. There is a missing component in Linkin Park songs: hope. Chester’s nihilism and hopelessness is clearly seen in “In The End”:

I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. I had to fall to lose it all, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.

This is what makes the Psalms of lament different from Linkin Park’s songs. As bleak as the Psalmist’s existence feels, as hopeless as it seems, the Psalmist chooses to trust in God.

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. ~Psalm 42: 3, 5

How can we as Christian communities give space to people who are struggling with doubt, anxiety, angst and frustration with God? How can we welcome people who are at different stages of their journey with God, allowing them to move at their own pace? How can we provide for the Chester Benningtons of the world something that they’ve wanted all along? Somewhere I belong.

Stephen Tan is pastor and church planter at Regeneration Church in Monash, Melbourne (regeneration.org.au). He is married to Kallie and they live with Cloud, their fluffy and friendly Japanese Spitz. Stephen grew up in Malaysia and is convinced that Malaysia has the best food. He is still waiting for Liverpool FC to win their first Premier League title.

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