A Review of Derek Webb’s “This Too Shall Be Made Right”

This article continues our series on Derek Webb’s latest CD. We are reviewing every song from the The Ringing Bell. This post is written by Southern Seminary student Owen Strachan from Consumed. Previous posts from this series can be found under the category Derek Webb.

Today we turn to the final song on Derek Webb’s new album, “The Ringing Bell.” The song is entitled “This Too Shall Be Made Right.” Less controversial than other songs on the album, Webb offers a thought-provoking take on evil in the world that is a modern day rendering of various passages in Ecclesiastes.

The song’s musical quality is good. Webb does very little in the way of fancy tricks on the song, as a lone guitar accompanies his voice. He sings as he often does in the upper range of his vocal ability, which creates a plaintive, wailing effect that fits the song’s content nicely. Webb has always excelled at this essential element of music-making. Unlike other artists, who sing happily no matter what the background requires, Webb has a keen understanding of matching his vocals with his music. As with other songs on the album, the sound is minimalist. This is good in one sense, because I personally think there is something to be said for stripped-down music. On the other hand, though, it doesn’t age that well. Anyone who’s listened to one of those “MTV Unplugged” albums knows that there are only so many listens one can tolerate before one unconsciously begins to whimper “Mixer…producer…where are you? Guys?” I personally prefer the luscious soundscapes of Webb’s previous albums, particularly I See Things Upside Down. Now that was a well-produced album.

Nevertheless, the stripped-down feel of “This Too Shall Be Made Right” connects your emotions with Webb’s words in a raw way that I’m sure he sought. I would prefer more production and detail, but he makes his point through his music.Now to the lyrics, which we’ll need to breeze through in the interest of (your) time.

Out of five stanzas, here are one and two.

people love you the most for the things you hate.
and hate you for loving the things you can’t keep straight.
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
and this too shall be made right.

children cannot learn, when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells,
whose waters quench all the fires of hell
and this too shall be made right.

As I noted, this is a very Ecclesiastes-like song, albeit with some Sermon on the Mount thrown in. Webb is obviously talking in the first verse about the tendency of people to associate based on what they’re against. We naturally define ourselves against something. That’s a good insight, as is Webb’s claim that we love to focus on what measure of judgment is bound to be coming the way of other people. With his Reformed worldview, Webb insightfully exegetes the natural man. He has a knack for abstracting higher and deeper than other artists. It’s not simply “I’m a sinner,” but “we judge one another on a curve.” That’s both pithy and reflective.

The second verse seems to relate to children in impoverished countries like many of the African states. I know Webb has a heart for such places and people. That’s a wonderful thing. These are haunting words. One can almost imagine a starving African child dreaming of cool water that will quench thirst and banish pain. For many children, this dream will not come true. Webb mourns over this, but reminds us of the sovereignty of God with the simple statement–“and this too shall be made right.” Simple, but eloquent, and so true. For so many things in this wretched world, this is our only–and all-sufficient–comfort.

Stanzas three and four

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
you say we’re just trying to stay alive
it looks so much more like a way to die.
and this too shall be made right.

yes theres a time for peace, there is a time for war
theres a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide.
and this too shall be made right.

The third verse puts into modern form the biblical idea that creation groans as it waits for Christ the King to return (Rom. 8:22). Webb makes the point that we fallen humans are not so much finding a way to live as creating our own pathway to death. This is a nicely stated point. The fourth verse is particularly moving. How horrible that there is indeed a period when “babies lose their lives” and “hunger and genocide” reign. How awful. I was reading at work about William Wilberforce today, how this diminutive Englishman worked indefatigably to end the British slave trade, and thought to myself just how little he actually was able to do. Do not misunderstand–Wilberforce did incredible things in his life. Yet when one considers how evil and corrupt the world truly is, one is almost overwhelmed, and can see that even the best efforts only force sin to mutate into other forms. This statement should not be read as one of resignation or despair. It is simply a realistic reflection on the world. Try as we might, there are still hundreds of women right now planning an abortion, hundreds of soldiers plotting the unjust death of innocents. Soon, they will kill. The world is one great flood of death and violence and evil, and we are largely powerless to stop it.

And yet, this shall be made right. This is our hope. None other presents itself; none other will be found. Only God’s hand sweeping it all away, dashing it all to pieces, will suffice.

Stanza Five

oh i don’t know the sufferings of people outside my front door.
and i join the oppressors of those i choose to ignore.
im trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder, it’s suicide.
and this too shall be made right.
o this too shall be made right.

In the last verse Webb skillfully turns the lens on himself, and admits that he finds great evil not only outside of himself but in himself. He indicts himself for “comfort.” This can be overdone, and sometimes is, especially among younger, impassioned Christians. There is a time for rest and relaxation, and a time for work. One can go crazy guilt-tripping oneself over what one is not doing. A balance of vigorous work and contented rest is best. Webb speaks passionately about ignored suffering, a theme that must resonate with us. I often find myself chagrined at how little I pray about world causes. Is it not so easy for us to forget that suffering Christians even exist? This is wrong. Our lives, when they are tallied up, will show many, many instances of such behavior. Yet even this, even this, shall be forgiven. Even this shall be made right.

In sum, this is good, solid songwriting executed pretty well in its minimalistic style. It’s not Webb’s finest lyrical hour, but it is good, with insightful reflection on sin clearly evidenced. I love the focus on God’s sovereignty and coming justice. The line, “this too shall be made right” combines these essential ideas. It is not simply that God is sovereign; it is not only that He will roll justice down. It is that He is sovereign and will judge. He is not inactive; He is not defeated; He will have His day. Webb brings this truth to light nicely in this song. Though not as musically gifted or as lyrically adept, we lift our voices with him, and cry to Christ: “Come. Come quickly.”

posted by Owen Strachan

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3 Responses to A Review of Derek Webb’s “This Too Shall Be Made Right”

  1. Matt H says:

    Great review.

    The message of this song is perfectly heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time.

    Derek’s eschatology is spot on in this one. It speaks of a “day that’s been inaugurated but has yet to come.” The absolute confidence in our hope that “this too shall be made right” keeps us from under-realizing our eschatology, while the plaintive cry that all is not yet right and will not be until the Day of Lord keeps us from over-realizing it.

    Thanks, guys, for doing these reviews. It’s been fun and helpful to debate and encourage by thinking deeply about our brother Derek’s art. May God bless your studies and your ministries.

  2. dave says:

    I don’t think in terms of comfort that he is even dealing with the topics of work and rest – he is dealing with the topics of wealth and worldview. Early in that last stanza he mentions that by ignoring those who are suffering (not just Christians, by the way, but ANYONE in the world who suffers), he is joining their oppressors – and that ignorance is what we do for comfort, because it is uncomfortable to become aware of what is really going on in the world, to be deeply involved in other peoples’ lives, to have to give up something that you find comfortable. We pile up all the stuff we can around us to try and convince ourselves that the world must not really be that bad, and when we live in that comfort and ignorance, we not only harm others, but we kill ourselves, because we are created to be a part of others’ lives, to live in community, and we are all connected – the welfare of those in Africa (or anywhere else in the world) effects us here in our big, comfortable America.

    I don’t think he’s saying (as you implied) that we should work all the time and never rest, he is saying that we should be able to give up the false comfort we look for in wealth and ignorance in order to be involved in the lives of the people around us and in the rest of the world – to care for them in real and practical ways and to share in their joy and suffering.

  3. Yeah, I wasn’t thinking he meant mere economics, either, Dave. My use of “word” included more than just the economic sphere and extended into “kingdom work.” If you read the second-to-last paragraph, you can see that I’m talking about more than economic labor. I’m saying that we need to be spiritual and work to spiritual ends, but that sometimes so-called “radical” calls can create more harm than good as we excessively blame ourselves for not doing enough. I’m trying to balance things on this point, having been too radical–and defeated–in the past.

    If you understand my words, I don’t think you and I disagree. It just depends how you understand the word “work,” and I understand how you might have thought I meant only economic work.

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