Blinded by Light: Analysis of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by The Avett Brothers

My wife and I have “discovered”  this summer the beautiful music of The Avett Brothers (we’re not known to be ahead of the curve on the latest music trends).  A family duo from small town North Carolina, the Avett Brothers will soon release their 6th studio album, The Carpenter.   They emerged onto the national music scene in 2009, performing the late night talk show circuit, and famously appeared with Bob Dylan in a joint performance on the 2011 Grammy Awards.

After purchasing a few of their songs online, the lyrics of “Heart Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” (I and Love and You, 2009) immediately grabbed my attention.  The first verse (repeated at the end too) reads:

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light

In the fine print that tell me what’s wrong and what’s right

And it comes in black and it comes in white

And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it

The idea of “a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light” brings to mind a critical commentary I read recently on the artwork of Thomas Kinkade, who died earlier this year.:  “The Dark Light of Thomas Kinkade” by Daniel A. Siedell (patheos.com).  Siedell anchors an argument that Kindade’s work communicates a misleading even dangerous theological message in Kinkade’s own stated intentions: “I like to portray a world without the Fall.”  A world without the Fall, and thus sin, while appealing to our deepest nostalgia, is also a world without grace and redemption.  Siedell argues that Kinkade’s work “refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world,” and consequently “refuses to take us to the end of ourselves, refuses the confrontations and disruption that could open us up to grace.”   In contrast, art that honestly portrays the depth of human suffering and brokenness that characterizes our condition “can and should at times kill us, destroy our pretensions to virtue, and thus help bring us to the point where we know our need for grace and can receive it.”

Thomas Kinkade’s A Peaceful Retreat

Darkness often does not look dark:  evil is most powerful and destructive when it looks like light.   In the context of warning the church against those who would use religion as a means to control and exploit, the apostle Paul exclaims, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising then that his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).   Jesus refers to Satan as the “father of lies.”  The Evil One destroys by deceit and illusion, thus disguising himself as light.

One form of “light” that shrouds darkness is law-based religion.  Religion that centers on rule-keeping, that supplies us with pages of “fine print that tell me what’s wrong and what’s right”, gives us a deluded sense of assurance that our souls are right with God and distorted sense of pride that our adherence to the law makes us better than others.  When we narrowly construe evil as a property of child-molesters, genocidal dictators, corrupt politicians, and greedy tycoons (the evil that ‘comes in black’), we are blinded to the evil that is closest to us – the evil in ourselves and our families (that ‘comes in white’).   Such was the religion of the Pharisees whose strict preoccupation with religions laws and traditions blinded them to the darkness within their hard hearts and to the Light of the World, Jesus, who dwelt among them.  Jesus condemned such an approach to religion in the strongest terms:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:28).

Darkness flooded in light is essentially wicked, but appears to be good on the surface.  Why should one be “frightened by those who don’t see it”?  Evil that looks evil is easier to run from and escape.  Evil that “comes in white” can destroy our lives and send our souls into forever darkness while we are totally oblivious to its devastation.  Furthermore “those who don’t see it,”  especially when they are in position of influence, will lead others on the same path of destruction.  Thus, Jesus also pronounces condemnation on the Pharisees “because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people” and “because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (23:13, 15).  Think of the horrors of Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty last week on multiple charges of sexual crimes against children.  What makes this case so frightening is that he used his charity, an organization established to help troubled children, something ‘white,’ as a vehicle to carry out his wicked schemes.  This same principle is at work in clergymen, teachers, or close family members that abuse children.  They are even more frightening because the darkness is concealed.

Just as undiagnosed disease is more frightening than diagnosed disease because nothing can be done about sickness that is hidden, so is hidden evil more frightening than evil that is exposed.  Only evil that is brought to light can be defeated by the grace of redemption.

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3 comments on “Blinded by Light: Analysis of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” by The Avett Brothers

  1. Gary says:

    Great post. I’m beginning to understanding your hypothesis. If you look closely at enough of his work you can detect a sort of sinister undercurrent to it all. It’s strange, creepy, and sickeningly saccharine, Also, that odd light shining through everything is weird, like a bad dream or something.

  2. John says:

    Jeremy, I need to get you caught up on some of my music. . .this has been one of my favorite bands for years. Great article!

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