Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in our newest series, reflecting on the Hillbilly Thomists’ recent, self-titled album. The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the Easter season. Read the whole series here. This post concerns the song “What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?,” which you can listen to here.
We humans are surprisingly bad at getting what we want. At the core, people want to be happy, and every choice anyone ever makes is ultimately for the sake of achieving this goal: happiness. Because of all the practice we have and energy we spend trying to become happy, one would expect that we would be pretty good at it. But we are not. In fact, we are frightfully bad at it.
Why are we so bad at it? Sometimes it’s because of ignorance: we don’t know what will make us truly happy. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we know full well what will make us happy, but we still deliberately choose against it. Think of the last time you had that extra piece of pie, even though you knew it would lead to a stomachache; or the last time you stayed up late watching TV, even though you knew you would feel exhausted and grumpy the next morning; or the last time you gossiped, even though you knew it would hurt your relationships. In these cases our aim is still for happiness, no doubt—all these things do bring a temporary “happy” feeling—but this counterfeit happiness quickly leads us to be less happy than we were at the start.
In short, this counterfeit happiness comes from seeking a good thing in the wrong way. Pie, movies, and even criticism can be good, but only in moderation and in the right circumstances. For example, eating a piece of pie after Easter dinner is a good way to celebrate the feast (especially if it’s pecan!), but eating six pieces would probably be bad. The pie-glutton treats pie as if it were the greatest of all goods and gives pie his full attention, forgetting about his health, talking with family, enjoying the rest of the feast day, etc. He has exchanged the path to true happiness for pie, which in the end will never satisfy.
That is what is going on when someone “exchanges” their soul for “the things that decay.” When we knowingly seek after good things in the wrong way, we sin, not only failing to become happy ourselves but also offending God, who desires our true happiness. To do this would be to give up our soul (i.e., our relationship with God) for some mere good of this world to gain some fleeting counterfeit happiness. Especially when we consider the coming moment of death, the utter foolishness of sin becomes even more striking. Only a great fool would risk an eternity of happiness with God in heaven for some counterfeit happiness on earth!
So, clearly, the “brother afar from the Savior” to whom the Hillbilly Thomists are singing in What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul could be any one of us fallen members of mankind. Each one of us has given our souls in exchange for sin in one way or another! Now, here’s the scariest part of all this: even though we know better, we just can’t seem to stop sinning! Try as we might, we keep committing the same sins again and again, and there can seem to be no hope that we will ever reach true happiness.
But we ought not fret! The Savior has not given up on us! He “still tenderly pleads” even for the most far-gone sinner. He knows we are powerless to fix ourselves alone; he knows that we don’t have the means to buy back our souls. He just asks us, “‘Won’t you give in’ and accept my mercy, and I will make you whole.”
Then, at the end of our days, when our eyes close in death, and the Father asks us, “What will you give in exchange for your soul?” we can reply, “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19).
Image: Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane