This Thanksgiving I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The CBS coverage of the parade included a scene from the Broadway production of The Color Purple. Although I had heard a lot of good things about this highly-acclaimed musical, I know next to nothing about it. During this scene, I happened to catch this line: “God is inside me and everyone else / That was or ever will be. / I came into this world with God / And when I finally looked inside, I found it, / Just as close as breath is to me.” Needless to say, this statement caught my attention. Here are some of my thoughts.
Kevin Vanhoozer, a professor here at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, once said in a book preview that it is very important to be reading current, popular, good literature. Why? It is because this is a gateway to better understand what society is thinking about different things. There is hardly a better way to get into the current society’s mind than to read the literature it produces.
Well, literature does not stop with books. Literature happens on stage, as well. Of course, The Color Purple is a stage production of a book of the same name written in 1982 by Alice Walker. According to Wikipedia (the Internet’s most scholarly source for all knowledge), The Color Purple “focuses on the life of African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.” It is a novel that specifically addresses issues such as racism, sexism, and, in the case of the subjects of this book, a combination of both.
But, according to the lyrics I quoted in the first paragraph, at least the stage production of this novel isn’t interested in only making societal assessments. What I heard from the portion that was played during the Thanksgiving Day Parade made explicit theological claims. And, if Dr. Vanhoozer’s claim is correct, and literature (which includes the stage) is a mirror in which the collective mind of society is reflected, then this is troubling.
The snippet I quoted in the first paragraph makes two explicit theological statements. Let’s look at each of them and weigh the claims against Scripture.
First, this song makes the claim that “God is inside me and everyone else that was or ever will be.” Now, there is a way in which I can agree with this statement and a way in which I wholeheartedly repudiate it. If we understand this as talking about the image of God, then sure, I can accept this claim. In that sense, “God is in…everyone.” Scripture clearly teaches that God’s image is imprinted upon everyone that has been, is, or ever will be. In the creation account, Scripture says that “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). When God prohibited mankind from killing one another, the reason he gave was, again, that “God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). James, in his New Testament epistle, when he is speaking against an unruly tongue, speaks of how it “[curses] people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). So, sure, I grant that, insofar as we all possess the image of God, “God is in…everyone.”
However, I fear that this is not the sense in which this is meant. I fear that it is meant in this second sense, which I perceive to be that God lives in everyone, that in some way all people—no matter the faith, lifestyle, etc.—possess God on the inside. This, I find, to be in direct opposition to Scripture. In Scripture, the phrases “in God” and “God in,” when referring to people, are reserved for genuine believers in the one true God and his risen Christ, the Lord. For example, Paul, when he is expounding to the church in Colossae the “mystery” of the gospel, he reveals that this mystery is that they, as Gentiles, have “Christ in [them]” (Colossians 1:27). Further, this presence of Christ in them is further described as being “the hope of glory.” In other words, “Christ in” in someone produces a real hope of salvation, a hope that is both present and future. In another place, Paul is describing to his readers the reality of their salvation, telling them that “in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). This statement is immediately followed by, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, considering the array of modifiers attached to “Spirit” in this chapter, undoubtedly refer to the same Spirit. Either way, it is inconceivable Scripturally that someone could have “God in them” yet not be a Christian.
So, depending on how you understand these lyrics (and I find it hard to understand them to be speaking of the image of God), this musical is propagating a vague half-truth or a grievous error. In regards to the second sense I described, God is most certainly not “in everyone.”
Second, this song makes the claim, closely related to the first, that “I came into this world with God.” It is by means of this statement that I believe the first is not referencing the image of God, as this statement is hard to understand if taken that way. In fact, this statement is hard to understand in general. What does it mean that “I came into this world with God”? Does it mean that each human being is born possessing God within themselves or, worse, that in order to find God one need merely look within? This smacks of a mystical and personal pantheism, “the theological belief that all of reality is God.” Of course, the view that in order to find God we must look within, when weighed against Scripture, is nonsense. Rather, Scripture speaks gravely of unconverted man. Paul tells his Ephesian audience that all people before regeneration are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3; emphasis added). Going back to Romans 8, Paul says that “the mind that is set on the flesh [i.e., the unconverted mind] is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). The Psalmist declares that he “was brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). It is hard to conceive that, given these passages, any human comes into this world “with God” in any fashion, except, of course, in the sense that we possess the image of God, marred and battered though it is.
It cannot be said enough: theology matters. And, if this song from The Color Purple is any indication of society’s view of man’s fallen (that is to say, natural) relationship with God (and I have no doubt that this is the case), then we are in trouble as a people, and the Church needs to stand for biblical truth now just as much as ever before. Part of our proclamation needs to be that we are not, outside of Christ, in good shape; that we are not born in a state of innocence, either on God’s side or he on ours; that we are incapable of helping ourselves in any way. This is in direct opposition to these song lyrics, but it is truth. Surely we do not want to be counted among those condemned by God through Jeremiah when he says, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). These lyrics come from hearts that want to believe there is peace, that all is well, and that man by himself is something good—to be commended by God—and that God is pleased with everyone, regardless of their faith (or lack thereof). Nothing could be farther from the truth, which is why the Church must preach the truth in godly love.
 “The Color Purple,” Wikipedia, January 11, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Color_Purple&oldid=759423663.
 Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Cf., Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moisés Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 413–14.
 Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 999.