Aussie pop-rocker Shannon Noll’s Switch Me On draws on Biblical imagery to describe a wayward life but to what is he restored? The song starts by describing a dark place:
I never thought that I’d find myself there
The darkest place that I’ve ever been
I never thought that I’d take this life for granted, but I did
He realizes the possibility of exchanging everything for fame is no longer the appealing vision of earlier days:
I would’ve given it all when I was younger
I would’ve given up everything for a taste
Of the life and the lights and the crowds
But my mind wasn’t right, they were lies
With good song-writing technique, verse 2 expands on the story:
There was a story my old man told me when I was young
He said the measure of a man ain’t in his bank account
He said be careful of the things you say and what you do
And all the people that you’ve got hangin around with you
And I lost my way, prodigal son
Of who I am and where I’m from
Ooh, I was blind but now I see
Here we have allusions to Jesus teaching on
- one’s life not consisting in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15)
- caution regarding words (Matthew 12:34) and actions (Matthew 5-8), and
- the prodigal son (who leaves his father for reckless living in Luke 15), to refer to the distance the singer found himself from his family roots (his “old man”, “where I’m from”).
The giving up everything from verse 1 for “a taste of the life and the lights” could even be interpreted as an exchange of one’s soul to gain the world (Mark 8:36). Verse 2 uses lyrics from the famous John Newton hymn Amazing Grace to refer to this reboot of his life (“was blind but now I see”), in which someone comes along:
And you switched me, switched me on again
And you showed me what it’s like to live
When you found me I was empty
I was too far gone for anybody
Switch me, switch me on again, tonight.
Into this darkness, someone switches him on, showing him what living is after being too far gone – hopeless, helpless, and empty. Blaise Pascal attributes those feelings of searching, helplessness and emptiness, from which the singer is freed, to our need for God:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.
The switching-on also brings about a discovery of life purpose, but the lyric “looking in your eyes” would suggest a human relationship is responsible for this switching-on:
Tonight I’ve never felt so alive
Just looking in your eyes
I finally realized
What I’m doing with my life
In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul describes the conversion of people as a change from death (‘too far gone for anybody’) to life:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.
Indeed, many popular songs use salvation language to describe regenerating experiences in life and relationships – people recognize an incompleteness which is met to some degree in relationships. But this song doesn’t really use the categories of romantic love – the weight of the song is a man examining his life in light of his Christian heritage and finding he has strayed. At least, his desperate situation is framed in these terms.
Yet, the bridge indicates that a human relationship drives this transformation. The line almost seems out of place given the emphasis that his state is not caused by a perceived lack of romantic love but due to a lifestyle. Thus, Switch Me On also differs from other songs which use salvation language in regard to what the lead character is being saved into – a restoration to a lifestyle; specifically, his Christian-influenced family roots, as opposed to happiness or completeness.
Most would agree that Jesus was a good teacher and if people followed his teachings, they would certainly lead a better life. But Jesus doesn’t ask us to simply follow the moral content of his teachings. He demands a life-changing response – to deny ourselves and follow him. Jesus’ teachings and parables show how much we have lost our way, how far prodigals have strayed from God, while also offering new life in the kingdom of God, which he achieved through his death and resurrection. While Switch Me On is humble enough to admit the importance of living a good life, Jesus ultimately teaches that good living will result only when he switches you on.