Kutless’ 2004 album, Sea of Faces, came at a crucial time of my life. My faith, in the early 2000s, could have been categorized along the lines of: “I like Jesus, but not that much.” As a young teenager, I certainly wasn’t opposed to faith, but it also wasn’t something in which I was wholeheartedly invested. My discovery of Christian rock—particularly through Kutless and RED—revealed to me the idea that one could be serious about good rock music and serious about Jesus. The men in these bands had both talent and conviction and weren’t afraid to show both. This connection was important for my developing faith.
Due to their movement away from their harder sound and my continuing to explore different bands in the hard rock and metal scene, Kutless fell off my musical radar for a number of years. As I consider it normal to have different band’s characterize certain seasons of life, this natural distancing did not greatly upset me.
However, Kutless is back! The band has recently returned to their harder sound and is heavier than ever! (Be still my heart!) Homecomings are often joyful and life-giving experiences, but the Oregon-based rocker’s single “Words of Fire” was truly an epic homecoming.
After the explosive guitar riff that begins the song, the first verse cries out, “It feels like I’m breaking / Under the weight of everything / A hopeless fight of gravity / Can I make it through this? / Waking to a nightmare / Cities burning everywhere while the world rejoices.” The second verse later continues, “My hands are shaking / And I can barely even breathe / The darkness closing in on me / Can I make it through this? / Waking to a nightmare / Sounds of violence everywhere / (Drowning out the voices).”
“Words of Fire” reflects upon the rather tumultuous state of affairs we have all experienced, in one way or another, over the past few years. The single’s artwork shows a car and a few buildings set ablaze—reminiscent of the riots that have afflicted America’s streets.
As we unfortunately well know, the COVID-era has been marked by societal polarization, political unrest, and rioting; increased rates of drug overdose and suicide (both among adults and teenagers); the continuation and growth of the pornography industry; the continued rise of human trafficking (labor and sex); increased rates of domestic abuse and divorce; countless individuals struggling from isolation, anxiety, depression, and substance addiction; and the steady march of many people, especially the young, away from organized religion, particularly Christianity. One could say that things are a bit on fire.
Yet, as faithful disciples, Kutless continues with a message of hope and, I believe, at a crucial time. The refrain proclaims, “I can see them rise from the ground / Witnessing breathing out words of fire / Words of fire / I can feel the fear all around / Broken hearts reaching out to the fire / Words of fire / The earth is breaking open.”
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49). When I heard the refrain of “Words of Fire,” I couldn’t help but think of these words. But there is a difference between the fire we encounter in the world and the fire with which Jesus desires to set the world ablaze. While the fire we often encounter in the world is associated with division, destruction, and death (a consequence of our own sinfulness), Jesus’ fire (a consequence of the Holy Spirit) brings life, healing, and builds up the kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit is traditionally symbolized by fire. Tongues of fire marked Mary and the Apostles in the Upper Room. The fire of the Holy Spirit is characterized in the seven spiritual gifts that are sealed within a baptized person at their Confirmation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord—are manifested, St. Paul tells us, in the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). It is these gifts and fruits, given generously by the Holy Spirit and received humbly and lived intentionally in the Christian soul, through which a real fire is spread on the earth. This fire of Jesus’ desire and the fire of the Holy Spirit’s power does not destroy but recreates the world.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:14-15). In Jesus’ day, long before electricity, a lamp would have been illuminated with fire. As a Christian people, we acknowledge that the world isn’t going to spontaneously combust into the fire that Jesus so desires. While, ultimately, that charismatic reality is up to God, he desires that people be involved in the process; hence his establishment of the Church.
Certainly, Jesus’ desire is no less today than when he shared it originally with his disciples! Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit has no less power today than when the Apostles were healing the sick, driving out demons, and bringing souls to Jesus after his Ascension (see Acts of the Apostles)! May we baptized and confirmed Christians invite the Holy Spirit into our lives today. May we not be afraid to be his instruments. There are so many people in darkness who need the light of Christian life lived boldly and joyfully in the Holy Spirit.
In a time when the world and even Christians can be tempted to weariness and despair considering all that is burning around, Kutless’ music calls us back to hope: God is in control, the Holy Spirit has power, and—as one line repeatedly affirms throughout the song—“the dead will come back to life!”