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November 15, 2016

Leonard Cohen Dies at 82

Dr. John Neufeld

I know that everyone has been concentrating on the U.S. election. From my perspective, the media coverage of it has been far too intense, so that any other news story around the world has been all but eclipsed. That gives those of us who want to hear of other things, feeling like the air has been let out of the room.

All that to say, I noticed that Canadian born musician, song writer, poet and philosopher Leonard Cohen passed away at the age of 82. The actual events surrounding his death have not been released.

Leonard Cohen always struck me as a brilliant, insightful and yet tragic figure. In a recent interview conducted in Canada, he was asked, “What is the importance of religion at this stage in your life?” That is not an unimportant question, for many of his songs are filled with Biblical allusions. He was launched into fame with his song, “Suzanne”, which had a number of lines of poetry regarding the impact of Jesus. More recently, “Hallelujah” and others songs relayed that Cohen was constantly thinking about Biblical themes. His answer to the question of the impact of religion in his life broke my heart.

Cohen said that he never thought of himself as a religious person. He said he had no “spiritual strategy”, rather that he “kind of limps along like so many of us do.” He went on to say that on occasion, he has felt the grace of another presence in his life. But he said that he had been unable to build any kind of spiritual structure out of the knowledge of that presence. The reason for all the biblical allusions in his music and poems is because this was the vocabulary that he had grown up with, and was a landscape with which he was completely familiar. For that reason, the language of the Bible, was for him “natural landmarks that he used as references.” He then acknowledged that these references points were once universal and everyone knew them, but that was no longer the case. And yet, this was still his landscape, and he lived in that reality. But, he went on to say, that he could not claim anything in the spiritual realm for his own. It is with this reality, that Leonard Cohen appears to have entered into eternity. I am heartbroken.

In a way, Cohen accurately reflects a culture that has now passed us by. A generation has come and gone, that once knew the Bible well. They had spiritual reference points, or a moral description that guided them in life. But they never made the connection between that and the living God who had come to rescue them from sin and make them his own dear children. And that generation has almost now passed away. It has been replaced by another, which also does not know God, but in this case, does not know the landscape, or the fixed reference points of the Bible.

Leonard CohenAs I thought about some of Cohen’s last thoughts in this world, in a sense, he spoke for our culture. And yet, as Cohen spoke in that interview, he was not at odds with the Bible. He was simply unable to find the God who created him.

As a believer in Jesus who also listened to Cohen on occasion, I find myself overwhelmed by what it means to be lost. Having been found by Jesus, I find I have not listened well enough to the plight of those who have not tasted and seen that the Lord is good. I have prayed, asking God to give me a renewed love for those outside of his grace, and the wisdom to share the saving news with a greater sense of urgency.

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