I’ll Fly Away ranks top among beloved Christian songs. And I can see why. It’s incredibly fun and catchy, speaking to people of hope beyond present struggles. When the banjos start up, the feet start stomping and we all join the rousing chorus, our spirits are lifted high with smiles all around. It feels great.
But feeling great doesn’t make it great.
And lest you think I’m one of those nit-picky types, hair-splitting on every theological difference across Christian song and hymnody, I’m not. I usually leave things well enough alone, allowing for theological diversity, even singing songs with which I don’t entirely concur in the spirit of Christian unity and generosity.
But not this one. I haven’t sung I’ll Fly Away in years (though I confess my foot may have tapped a time or two . . . the flesh is weak, my friends).
What is wrong with it? Three things come to mind.
- “Flying away” is not Christian hope–rising again from the dead is. Rather than looking forward to a time of escape, we long for the resurrection of our bodies in the context of a renewed creation (Romans 8:20-23). It is critical that we recapture this basic truth and hope, because it effects everything else we do, say or pray.
- Creation is good, God said so. The idea of “flying” from these prison walls like a bird presents a foul view of humanity: that we are spirits trapped inside bodies, and that our only hope is to someday escape from this evil flesh. Hatched from the ancient Greeks, this “dualism” divides
reality into the good, spiritual things and the bad, physical things. But the Bible never taught this: God’s creation is good, though it has been “subject to frustration” (Romans 8) due to human sin. Until when? The time humans are resurrected, because the future of the earth and the future of the earthlings are bound up together. Human bodies won’t be scrapped for a more “spiritual” existence–they will be raised to life incorruptible in a new body, just like Jesus. The same is true of God’s earth; God’s plan is not to scrap it but to renew it. We’ll be singing on God’s terrestrial, not celestial, shore.
- We pray “Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.” Practically, this is where it hits home. I’ll Fly Away distracts us from praying and imagining God’s kingdom come in our world, in our time. Songs like this place Christian hope in another world, another time, rather than announcing the kingdom come in Christ, here. Christians have been accused of being “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”, but this is only true if what we mean by “heaven” is a bastardized, Platonic view of a non-earthly, “spiritual” existence, rather than the biblically robust, fully recreated, resurrection reality of the new heavens and the new earth joining together as one in the end (Revelation 22:1-5).
There’s more I could say, but let’s cue the party music. These guys are ready to play.
After years of stony resistance to the siren song of I’ll Fly Away, I re-wrote the lyrics. Sacred cows make great BBQ’s, and I got a hankerin’ for this one. I’m not expecting to overturn the deep-seated love for the old song–too many memories, too many banjos. But maybe, just maybe, if a few of us started singing of our true hope, our eyes would rise toward God’s kingdom come and coming to us through resurrection, rather than flying away to an imaginary never-never land.
I’ll rise again