“Even Jesus could never forgive what you do.” ““ Bob Dylan

(from Pr. Preus) I was listening to Pearl Jam today and it got me to thinking. Pearl Jam is a grunge rock and roll group from Seattle which was very popular about a decade ago and still enjoys some following. They were singing a song entitled “Masters of War” which was written and sung by Bob Dylan back in the sixties. In the song Eddie Vedder (lead singer for Pearl Jam) rails against all those who are responsible for the travesty of war. He gets kind of worked up toward then end of the song and croons this telling lyric. “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do.”


“Even Jesus would never forgive what you do.”


Of course the line is intended to evoke a response especially since the name of Jesus is not commonly invoked in this genre of music. Holding to the conviction that there is such a thing as a just war, I do not share Pearl Jam’s unquestioned hatred towards everything to do with it. But, such a belief did not preclude me from granting the premise, for the sake of discussion, that masters of war are bad. Having granted this premise I still thought that the line was an overstatement which even poetic license should not concede. So, my most immediate and visceral reaction was to take exception. “Well, Jesus can and does forgive all sins” I protested to myself, “So how can you and Bob Dylan deny this forgiveness even to the “‘masters of war?'”


Having won that argument (keeping in mind the rather one sided nature of this discussion – me riding in my car and Eddie Vedder blissfully unaware, of my musings) I proceeded to a deeper analysis. It occurred to me that Bob Dylan, when he wrote the song, was casting about in his mind for that person who would be the most unlikely to deny forgiveness. That way this person’s denial would really show how bad the masters of war are. Now I am told that Bob did go through a “born again” phase of his spiritual journey but that occurred after the writing of the song and did not, it appears, have a lasting influence on the man. So he was not a Christian during the protests of the sixties. Jesus would not have been the only option as a metaphor for that which is least likely to deny forgiveness even to the unforgivable. Perhaps Mr. Dylan thought of using Muhammad as the ultimately symbol of forgiveness or maybe Buddha crossed his mind. Maybe the Blessed Virgin impressed herself upon him or even the Holy Father in Rome. But Bob settled on Jesus. And this choice tells us something.    


When you want an example of forgiveness who is the first one to come to mind even among an unbelieving world? It’s Jesus. Somehow people know that Jesus is all about forgiveness. And, better, forgiveness is all about Jesus. Perhaps Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder don’t believe it. I’d bet they do not fully understand the nuances of the teaching of the vicarious atonement or the imputation of righteousness by the gospel through faith. But they know that Jesus somehow embodies, exemplifies and personifies forgiveness.  


How these men know this, I do not know. Maybe they were raised in or near a Christian influence or caught it on TV. Who knows? But they know that Jesus is said to forgive.


When you want to know how to talk to a friend about Jesus especially if they are not Christian then maybe this look at a forty year old song can help you. Or if you are talking to a family who has lapsed and doesn’t seem to view Jesus as having much value then maybe this lyric can guide you. In any confession of Christ ultimately you must say that Jesus forgives. Yes he is a friend, a helper, an example, a great prophet, an awesome God, the Alpha and Omega and a host of other labels which may or may not be meaningful. But, most of all, Jesus forgives. He forgives Bob Dylan, Eddie Vedder, and the whole world. He even forgives the “masters of war” and all unsavory and unlikely types. Mostly he forgives you.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


“Even Jesus could never forgive what you do.” ““ Bob Dylan — 3 Comments

  1. Others may know more, but I think you will find that Bob Dylan realized the errors of ways and has not sung the words “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do.” since his Christian conversion in 1978.

    When I’m gone don’t wonder where I be.
    Just say that I trusted in God and that Christ was in me.
    Say He defeated the devil, He was God’s chosen Son
    And that there ain’t no man righteous, no not one. – Bob Dylan


  2. Bob Dylan was raised Jewish and much of his work from early on is suffused with Biblical themes. One of his most famous songs, much more well-known than “Masters of War”, is “All Along The Watchtower”. It is allegedly based on Isaiah 21:5-9. “Watchtower” is not a preachy piece of anti-war propaganda (Dylan abandoned such stuff pretty quickly) and the lyrics are much more difficult to understand. But it has a haunting, mystic quality, which is probably why Jimi Hendrix recorded a perhaps equally famous cover version. Probably Pearl Jam in much the same way caught something they liked in “Masters of War” and just copied it. I would guess Dylan understood very well why Jesus would be considered a model of forgiveness, but Pearl Jam had a much vaguer notion.

  3. put down the cat and pick up a bible, reverend. god is not mocked – whatever a man sows is what he will reap. free will is free will and gods gifts are without repentance. one who does not forgive cannot be forgiven, no matter how many magic words they say and wishful thoughts they embrace.

    btw, bob hasn’t backslidden, he has moved to higher ground, preferring the truth of the uncreated god and his son, not one of your or any other man’s making.

    be well

    “true spirituality is the ability to recognize the truth and the will to conform to it.” steve wilson

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