The professor and Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer once wrote, “If we wish to get to the heart of the matter when we ask the question: “What is a theologian?” we have to transform that question into the following form: “Who are you?” According to Bayer’s description of a theologian, everyone’s a theologian, even Taylor Swift.
In her new album, Midnights, singer/songwriter Taylor Swift writes a collection of personal songs reflecting on the midnight hours. The album consists of a diverse mixture of emotions that bring the conscience to life under cover of night. Midnights is a deeply theological album. Through songwriting, the artist answers the question, who are you?
Anti-Hero is a song of confession. In one of her more popular songs on the album, Midnight, the artist confesses insecurities and qualities she sees in herself, which are less than preferable. “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” Swift writes.
An anti-hero, by definition, is a character who lacks quintessential heroic qualities. Read the Scriptures and you’ll find an abundance of anti-heroes. Abraham, the great patriarch of the faith, has an idolatrous history on his resume. David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), was constantly entangled in sin and being called to repentance. The disciples were a ragtag group of anti-heroes made up of fishermen, zealots, and a Roman government employee.
Swift writes, “I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices, I end up in crisis.” In comparison, left to ourselves we are like Peter, who, walking on water toward Jesus, became overwhelmed with fear and began to sink. Left to our own devices, we are dead in sin. We are unable to save ourselves. We confess and pray with Peter, “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30).
The prophet Isaiah speaks of another anti-hero. “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:2-3).”
Jesus doesn’t despise sinners. He saves them. He saves us, sinners, by becoming our sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He takes the sin which troubles our conscience and pays for it in full. We are free. When the midnight monsters of sin and shame knock on our door, Jesus answers for us. All our sin and shame is answered for in the death and resurrection of our Lord.
The answer then to the question, who are you, comes from outside of ourselves. We are not left to our own devices. We are free in Christ! The apostle Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).”
Everyone’s a theologian, even you. So, how would you answer the question: who are you? Oswald Bayer continues to write, “Faith causes one to reflect: not only the professional theologian…but every time a woman or man is asked the question: “Who are you?” The answer that follows is: I am the one to whom it is said: “I am the Lord your God.” I am the one who came into existence only through this Word.” In other words, I am baptized!
We are not on our own; we never have been. Our sin is not our own. Our sin was laid on Jesus and buried in the tomb. Our resurrected Lord gifts a new identity to us, baptized.
In Christ, we can answer boldly, “I’m baptized. I’m forgiven. I’m a saint. I’m a beloved child of God.” That is who we are.