Photo by Jonathan Powell
"21 Years by TobyMac is filled with transparency, honesty and hope of the promised life to come in Christ."
I can’t get enough of this song, after listening to it a dozen times I finally took the time to read the lyrics. I needed to feel it before I could analyze it. There are so many questions I would ask Toby, but I think some of them are simply for him and his relationship with his son Truett. Some of his lyrics seem like words of regret, I pray his heart settles with those doubts somehow and in some way. Toby will always regret, but I know someday he can both regret and accept.
The first part of the song that stood out to me, besides the chorus which I’ll get to, is in the first pre-chorus verse. “Why would You give and then take him away? Suddenly end, could You not let if fade?” What I would give for a couple of days.”
This concept and dilemma I understand well and address in my book, The Last Day of Regret. Would I rather know someone is going to die, so I have time to say goodbye or have it just happen suddenly? As a father losing his son, I would wish for the same too. I would wish for a last chance to say goodbye, allow life to slowly fade and give the living time to grieve. I think his question of God is fair, God is okay with our questions. It’s an acknowledgement of our heart and He cares about what we care about.
There is a lot to read into in the last pre-Chorus, “You said you’d turn, you would turn it around. Thought that you had time to straighten it out. Told me that you were my prodigal son, but this isn’t home.” I think this is the heart of his song. This, to me, is where we can suspect some struggle in Truett’s life. I’ll just leave it at this, Toby will always wonder why he couldn’t save his son. That will be his lifelong struggle.
Now the chorus, it is so beautiful and filled with imagery, metaphor and hope. “Is it just across the Jordan, or a city in the stars.” I love this, I’ve never heard this used in this specific way. Crossing the Jordan river is a huge moment for the nation of Israel and serves as a reminder of all that God has done for them. We can read in Joshua 3 the events that unfold as explained by Joshua. The water is dried up so the nation can enter the promised land. It was a direct reminder of what God had done a generation ago when he delivered them from Egypt through the Red Sea. This time, however; Moses and his generation had died wandering in the desert for their sin.
We also find this idea of entering the Promised Land in the book of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 as entering into God’s rest. The opportunity to enter into the promised land is an opportunity to be where God is and rest, be at peace.
This line in the song is asking, “Where exactly is heaven?” Where can Toby find his son? Is he in the promised land, is he in heaven which humanity has long equated with stars?
“Are you singin’ with the angels,” this is what we will all be doing someday. The Bible tells us that the angels worship God and that we will have a chance to worship him too. Truett was a singer, so quite literally is he using his giftedness to praise the King?
“Then I heard every creature – in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them – singing: ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!’” Revelation 5:13, NET
“Are you happy where you are?” This is the question we ask of our loved ones, especially the parent of a child. All parents want our children to be happy and free of pain. This is a rhetorical question. Of course his son is happy, he just wants to acknowledge his father’s heart for his son.
“Well, until this show is over,” until Toby’s own life ends at the time that is right, is what he is reflecting on here. Toby’s career has been in the spotlight, and it rightly fits how he sees this life. “The show must go on,” as they say.
“And you run into my arms,” is a reference to the overall story of the prodigal son that is not just alluded to but is boldly stated several times. We saw earlier that Truett considered himself to be a prodigal son. Toby believes his next interaction with his son is more than a meeting, it is a grand reunion with his son running to him.
“God has you in heaven,” if you didn’t believe the earlier lines, he makes it clear now that Truett is in heaven.
“But I have you in my heart,” juxtaposed to his son being with God, the only place our loved ones remain while we are here on earth is in our hearts.
My next favorite part solidifies this concept that Truett is a prodigal son, and Toby can’t be the father he runs to yet because he is no longer here, Toby gives us a great new look at this story.
“Did he see you from a long way off?
Runnin’ to him with a father’s heart?
Did You wrap him up inside Your arms,
And let him know that he’s home?”
I have to wrap my head around this, and place who is in what role and this is my best shot.
Toby is asking God if He saw “Truett” from a long way off?
God, did “Truett” see you running to him with a father’s heart?
God did you wrap “Truett” up in Your arms, and tell “Truett” that he is home?
To summarize the message, Toby is both asking and stating, “God, can you tell Truett that he is forgiven and loved? I can’t, Truett isn’t here, but I trust that you can because Truett is there where you are.”
We who have lost a loved one understand this sentiment. How I long to see my sister Hannah again and see her whole and healed. To those who belong to Christ we are promised a resurrected body and in that body we will finally see ourselves as God sees us. A beautiful and good creation.
53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:53-57, ESV
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J. Diaz