At seventeen, I started to starve myself.
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness,
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt,
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness.

Florence and the Machine’s new single Hunger comes out of the corner swinging. From the first line, you know this is not going to be a breezy summer jam.

If I am honest, I rolled my eyes when I first heard Florence Welch’s captivating voice sing that first line. I thought it was a bit much, especially for an opening line.

What happened next was musical magic.

I was gripped by the song; held tight to Florence as she sang, and the words washed over me. The sweeping music and lyrics connected to my own story and struggles.

I have loved Florence and the Machine since college. That was when I first heard the fiery vocals and catchy instrumentals of the art-pop band. To be transparent, the first time I heard a song by Florence and the Machine was a cover performed by my wife’s acapella group and not the actual band, but I heard a depth in the lyrics that led me to look them up immediately.

This new single does not disappoint. In fact, it so accurately names and describes the state of soul for much of America that I have a hard time listening without tearing up.

We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.

What Florence and the Machine name in this song is the fundamental human condition, the hunger that undergirds our existence. It is what evangelical youth pastors call the “God-sized hole” in the heart. It is what Augustine described as being “restless” until resting in God. We search and strive and hustle, always looking for the next thing to fulfill us. We use food, drugs, alcohol, work, people, and anything else we can get our hands on to try and fill the hungry hole.

Tell me what you need, oh, you look so free
The way you use your body, baby, come on and work it for me
Don’t let it get you down, you’re the best thing I’ve seen
We never found the answer but we knew one thing

I am always worried that I am assigning the wrong meaning to a song or poem or piece of art. I am worried that I am reading into a piece things that simply aren’t there. It is like artistic confirmation bias.

I found some relief from this while listening to Abbi Jacobson’s art podcast A Piece of Work. Jacobson, of Broad City fame, says in the first episode, “I think that sometimes when people go into museums they see all these things on the walls and they’re like ‘What am I supposed to get out of this?’ … and even after years of art school I feel that way most of the time. But also, I think that what you’re supposed to do is look at it and take it in. And feel however it makes you feel. Because whatever that is, is right.”

What I hear in this song is the Gospel. I hear Good News in the form of a diagnosis of my deepest problem. I have a deep hunger that I am seeking desperately to fill. Like Florence and the Machine, in spite of all my searching, I never find the answer, at least not here.

We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.

What Florence and the Machine name in their new single is a fundamental truth of humanity. We are all hungry and we will never find the answer to that hunger in our pursuit of earthly things.

This hunger expresses itself as a desire for love, acceptance, companionship, and authenticity, but it is even deeper than that. We do not simply want greeting-card love or even some sort of general acceptance. Our souls aim higher than mere tolerance. We long for love that sees us down to our deepest flaws and continues to love. We long for an acceptance of the very fact of our being, not an acceptance of our behavior or talents or appearance. We long for a one-way love that will pierce our hardened hearts.

We hunger for grace and we want the freedom that comes with it.

And it’s Friday night, and it’s kicking in
In that pink dress, they’re gonna crucify me.
Oh, but you and all your vibrant youth—
How could anything bad ever happen to you?
You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment

Jesus told his followers to be born again and become like children. There is something beautiful about the freedom of childhood that we all long for, but we fear the repercussions of truly being free. If we let go and trust the grace of God, it just might change everything. It may be exactly what Jesus said it would be: rest, an easy yoke, a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price, a lost and found son, a wedding banquet, heaven.

And all it takes is surrender, which is a nice way of saying death. We must die to ourselves and our insistence that we are in control. We must die to the notion that we will ever be able to fill this hunger on our own.  

I thought that love was in the drugs,
But the more I took, the more it took away,
And I could never get enough.
I thought that love was on the stage;
You give yourself to strangers,
You don’t have to be afraid.
And then it tries to find a home with people, oh, and I’m alone,
Picking it apart and staring at your phone.

Of course, we all surrender to so much on a daily basis. Drugs, alcohol, other people, technology — we surrender our free will because of the promises these things make. One sip or one tweet or late night rendezvous and we will be connected, seen, loved, but it never works.

We always end up alone “picking it apart and staring at the phone.”

We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.

The hunger we all feel in 2018 is not new. In fact, it is as old as humanity itself. The difference is that we have invented more junk food that promises fullness and leaves us empty and sick.

It is cliché to say that Jesus is the answer to whatever question you are asking. It is not true of some questions like, “Is it a bad sign that the guy who answers the phone for Indian carry-out knows my voice, name, and order by memory?” or “How many days can I wear these shorts without washing them?” Jesus is not the answer to those questions.

But to that one question, the one that has been bothering you for years now. The one sneaky question mark that sits behind all the periods and exclamation points in your mind. The question that Florence hints at in this song, the question of your fundamental worth and loveliness in the eyes of God.

The answer to that question is most certainly Jesus.

Tell me what you need, oh, you look so free.
The way you use your body, baby, come on and work it for me.
Don’t let it get you down, you’re the best thing I’ve seen;
We never found the answer but we knew one thing.

In the music video to Hunger, various people move around a classical statue with holes in its hands and side. At one point, as the chorus blasts, a Thomasian man puts his finger in the side of the statue.

The rest of the video features people dancing, making replicas, and wandering around the statute trying to take it all in. They all present themselves as an offering before the Christ-like figure, hoping to fill that hunger. 

The video ends dramatically with a question written across a black screen: How many have to die so that you can feel loved?

We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.
We all have a hunger.

Many words have been written about the epidemic of loneliness and anxiety in our culture. We all know that something has gone terribly wrong. We also know that the ways that we are living now are not helping.

Florence Welch herself said in an interview that this song is about “the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more.”

She went on to say, “I guess I made myself more vulnerable in this song to encourage connection, because perhaps a lot more of us feel this way than we are able to admit. Sometimes when you can’t say it, you can sing it.”

And it’s Friday night, and it’s kicking in,
In that pink dress, they’re gonna crucify me.
Oh, you and all your vibrant youth—
How could anything bad ever happen to you?
You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment
I forget to worry.

Only when we rest in the one-way love of God can we truly rest. Only then will our hunger be truly filled. Only then can we forget to worry.