How should a Christian view John Lennon’s song Imagine?

Even though it was written in 1971, for many, John Lennon’s song Imagine is still an anthem. For some, the ideas Lennon espouses in the song describe an ideal world. But what most people fail to do is actually think through what the world would be like without the things we are supposed to imagine the world without. Imagine encourages us to use our mental faculties in one way while disengaging our brains in other ways.

John Lennon’s song Imagine is frequently used as a call for peace and unity. It’s an especially common selection in response to acts of violence. As with many works of music or poetry, Imagine has inspired debate over its meaning. And, as with most works of art, the song can be over-analyzed. Performers and listeners may imbue it with meanings not necessarily intended by the writer. Secular critics often note that what Lennon depicts is end-stage communism: the pursuit of which has been the cause of millions of deaths throughout history. From a biblical standpoint, some of what the song “imagines” is worthwhile, and some is flatly false. Popular or not, Imagine is not something that Christians should invest much of their concern.

Lennon collaborated with his wife, Yoko Ono, to compose Imagine, and the song was released in the U.S. in late 1971, during the Vietnam War. The lyrics describe a world in which there are “no countries, . . . nothing to kill or die for and no religion,” where everyone is “living life in peace.” The song asks the listener to imagine “no possessions, . . . no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.” The song contains no explicit call for such a world to become real. Nor does it suggest the means to achieve those goals. However, it clearly presents a longing that Lennon wishes to see fulfilled. The chorus asks for others to “join us” in the pursuit of unity and peace.

From a biblical standpoint, the first verse of Imagine presents something entirely incompatible with truth. The lyrics say, “Imagine there’s no heaven, . . . no hell below us, above us only sky.” The song implies that, if people took the perspective that this world is all there is, everyone could be “living for today”—as opposed to ignoring the world’s needs in favor of otherworldly concerns. The song casts this perspective as a good thing that would result in world peace. Of course, the fact is that heaven and hell do exist (Philippians 3:20; Luke 13:5) and living for eternity does not blind one to the needs of the world.

Further, history disproves Lennon’s optimism. A denial of heaven and hell does not result in world peace—quite the opposite, in fact. The worst human atrocities—counter to the rest of Lennon’s vision, ironically—have been driven by an atheistic rejection of the afterlife and the removal of religion from society. When leaders assume there is nothing “above” man, the result is usually genocide: witness Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and others who saw themselves as the highest authority.

Other parts of the song Imagine communicate some wonderful thoughts. To some extent, the world we are asked to imagine resembles the idealized earth over which Christ will rule during the end times: a world unified and peaceful where poverty, war, and corruption are done away with. Biblically, such a condition is only possible under the direct, personal rule of Christ. Believers should be discerning. Songs like Imagine may represent truth in part while also containing serious flaws. Some of what John Lennon envisages is good—even the imagining of “no religion” parallels how modern Christians often speak of Christianity as a relationship and not a set of religious practices. At the same time, rejecting the idea of heaven and hell and denying the gospel doesn’t make anything better for anyone.

History proves that, when men seek the utopia of Imagine using the humanistic foundation of the first verse, they create misery instead. The principles of unity, charity, and peace that Lennon espoused only make sense in the context of the Christian worldview. It is because there is more than “only sky” above us—there is Someone above us—that we can claim human equality and seek to serve others.

S. Michael Houdmann with Jeff Laird

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How should a Christian view John Lennon’s song Imagine?