A Material Boy in a Spiritual World

“Material Boy” is the first release from the forthcoming album of alternative band Sir Sly, whose previous hits include: “Gold,” “High,” and “&Run.” The song is reminiscent of 80s synth-pop and features deeply personal lyrics about faith and spirituality by frontman, Landon Jacobs: (Note: song contains some strong language.)

Jacobs explained in an interview that the song is “about feeling free to explore spirituality outside of the bounds of my childhood faith” of Christianity. It is a recognition that there must be something deeper beyond the material things of this world, as shown by the video’s locations—cutting between an opulent mansion and nature. The song’s chorus explains Jacobs’s feelings simply:

I opened up my heart and found a spiritual void
This is a spiritual world, I’m a material boy

In an interview from 2014, Jacobs explains how he came from a Christian home, yet abandoned his faith when many of his loved ones lost their battles with cancer. He said, “How do I believe in a God who cares, if everybody is being affected by this, no matter how good of a person they are? And no matter how many people they have around them, praying for them, they still die?” This is possibly the greatest issue people have with Christianity: If God is good and loving, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?

This is a difficult problem, one that cannot be easily understood. However, abandoning God in the face of great suffering does not make the pain go away; it forces us instead to look elsewhere for a solution to the problem of evil in the world. Jacobs sings that he still had his share of problems, no matter what he tried:

I filled up my pockets
Checked all the boxes
I couldn’t escape
Still find myself obnoxious
Prideful and godless
Selfish and thoughtless
Capital dream for material boy,
then I went and I lost it
I went and lost it all

Afraid of Judgment
Jacobs honestly admits that he is:

No longer Christian, but I’m still afraid of judgement

This simple statement about judgment presents huge worldview implications. Jacobs still believes that there may be a life after death, that there is someone or something that may judge his life’s deeds, and that he may not live up to that standard. Perhaps this fear of judgment is just a remnant of Jacobs’s religious upbringing, but as he recognizes, he still has a spiritual void in his heart. Romans 2 teaches that everyone has God’s moral code written on their hearts, whether they believe in God or not. Abandoning God did not free Jacobs from his guilt and the recognition of his shortcomings.

Jacobs’s statement about judgment is also reminiscent of Pascal’s Wager: If Christianity is true but you reject it, then you will lose eternal life. If you follow Christianity and it ends up being false, then you have only “lost” a single lifetime. The weight of the consequences ought to cause a person to at least consider Christianity, since there is so much at stake. This is especially significant to someone like Jacobs, who abandoned Christianity because he witnessed his loved ones suffer and die. However, if Christianity is true, we will be reunited with the dead in Christ and we will never suffer again. While the problem of pain is a difficult reality in this life, Christianity offers new and eternal life in the Kingdom to come, where suffering and death have no place (Revelation 21:1-5).

A Spiritual Void
Although the problem of evil caused Jacobs to abandon Christianity, he recognizes that he still has a spiritual void within his heart. This is critical for anyone who is wrestling with their faith to understand: if you abandon your belief in God, with what will you replace it? Because you are a spiritual being and you will find the need for your spiritual hunger to be expressed and satisfied. Jacobs recognized that as a spiritual being, material things cannot fill this void. He turned to things such as alcohol to ease his pain, but he realized that only made his problems worse. In the midst of our pain and suffering, we need real answers and real hope—Hope that isn’t found in material things.

We may never know the reasons for each specific instance of suffering that we face in life, but the Bible does promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Joseph led a very difficult life, yet, through being faithful to God, he saved both Egypt and his family. He told his brothers (who had sold him into slavery!), “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). We simply do not know how God can use even the most difficult of circumstances to bring about good later. Never forget that God used the greatest injustice of all, the death of his innocent Son, to bring salvation to the world, which is the greatest good imaginable.

Suffering also produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Paul knew this very well, as he suffered greatly in his lifetime. Yet, he considered all of his tribulations “light and momentary troubles” in light of the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). As difficult as it is to face the great evils of this fallen world, we have an assurance that God is with us in all of our pain, and that any difficulty we face in this life will pale in comparison to the joys that await us in the life to come.

It’s popular for people to claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” meaning that they believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force, yet not ascribing to any particular belief system. This is attractive, as it avoids the demands of organized religion; however, it does not offer any substantive answers to the big questions of life. Jacobs has said, “I now believe spirituality to simply be a process of becoming comfortable with unknowing.” But how exactly does unknowing offer comfort? We all wish to know whether our existence has meaning or if there is life after death. A vague “spiritual but not religious” mentality offers no ultimate hope or peace to our greatest spiritual needs.

While it is heartbreaking that Jacobs has abandoned Christianity, he at least recognizes a spiritual void in his heart. Let us hope and pray that he grows dissatisfied with uncertainty and finds his way back—not to his childhood faith, but to a mature faith in Christ, who offers lasting peace and hope for this life and the next.

Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com.