“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”
Those are the key queries in a song Paul McCartney wrote when he was 16. The Beatles released it on June 1, 1967, just before I hit 17. Now I’m hitting 64 next month, and my most pertinent question concerns not so much what happens in this life but the next, if there is a next.
I say “if” because until 26 I didn’t think there was a next, and that didn’t bother me. Most Americans now grow up with surround sound but not around death, so in our 20s we tend to consider ourselves immortal. (Our predecessors without antibiotics were much more likely to die young.) When I professed faith in Christ at age 26, I didn’t do so thinking it would gain me eternal life. I did so in the belief that it was true.
Now I believe there is a next, and that’s comforting. I have a hard time going to bed before midnight, because deep down I don’t want to miss anything. I would be very sad if I thought death meant the end of consciousness. I would be even sadder if I expected hell, but missing everything to come is bad enough. Some old atheists say they’re fine with the dust of death, but I don’t believe them.
So the Christian hope is different for me now than it was when I was 26. Then, I sought purpose in life. Now, I seek purpose in death. Then, I saw myself as a hero. Now, I’ve learned I’m more a hobbit who knows only half of what I should know less than half as well as I should.
When I was 16 The Beach Boys released a song that has also lasted, “God Only Knows.” Paul McCartney, knowing when he was bested, called it his favorite song of all time. The tune is beautiful and the lyrics are simple but elegant: “If you should ever leave me / Though life would still go on, believe me / The world could show nothing to me. / So what good would livin’ do me? / God only knows what I’d be without you.”
Since next month will bring not only birthday 64 but wedding anniversary 38, I’ve been humming that song when I think about my wife Susan and about how God (mercifully for me) brought us together. Strikingly, “God Only Knows” was one of the few popular songs to use “God” in its title, and writers Brian Wilson and Tony Asher almost changed that title, fearing it would keep their song from getting airplay. But they finally decided to go with it, Wilson said, because “God was a spiritual word.”
That’s for sure: was and is. And where would I be without God? As Psalm 73 states, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you?” If I were ever to leave God, death would go on but it would show nothing good to me.
So I don’t sing to Susan “When I’m Sixty-Four” every night before we go to sleep, but we still need each other and will still feed each other.
Nor do I sing “God Only Knows”: I still love the song, but HBO trashed it by making it the theme tune for the first three seasons of the network’s pro-polygamy series, Big Love. (The show ran from 2006 until 2011, with death in the last episode parting the main character and his multiple wives.)
The song Susan and I sing each night before going to sleep is a mash-up I did of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” the Doxology, and other verses to the tune of the Russian (formerly Soviet) national anthem: Take that, Putin! The refrain goes, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures that are here below / Praise Him above, the heavenly host / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost / Long will Christ’s crimson gift atone / Shining in glory for all men to see.” (You can hear it at wng.org/media/docs/great_is_your_faithfulness.mp3, sung by WORLD radio’s Michael Cochrane.)
And I wake up knowing that God doesn’t need me but He does feed me physically and spiritually, so I’m grateful—and I desperately need Him.