Grace is indeed required to turn a man into a saint; and he who doubts this does not know what either a man or a saint is.” – Blaise Pascal

For many of us, sainthood, at least in the Catholic sense, is an insignificant pastime. It is the ecclesial equivalent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When The Doobie Brothers were inducted into the Class of 2020 a few months ago, for instance, there were no protesters and the same usually goes for whoever the pope canonizes every October. And yet, the theological implications of sainthood are extremely controversial. What is a saint? How does one become a saint? Is it the humble acknowledgement of a life given in service or is it a reward for piety? These are some of the many questions that are raised when listening to the insightful, deeply personal music of Good Saint Nathanael. 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nate Allen, the songwriter and frontman of Good Saint Nathanael, last week as the band recently released a video for their standout song “Making Repairs.” Throughout their latest album Hide No Truth, Allen prayerfully and genuinely searches for healing and comfort, but only after painstaking introspection. “Lord, I give you everything inside of me, the brokenness that I’ve been trying to hide like the parts inside me that I lost when I was running blind,” he sings.  It’s an open, vulnerable confession from someone who has cried out for help and is waiting for God to respond.

Allen understands that, to find true connection with oneself, with others and with God, one first needs to reflect on the way things actually are. As 20th-century physician Thomas Stephen Cullen (who was also the son of a minister) once said, “A physician who does not admit the reality of the disease cannot be supposed to take much pains to cure it.” For Allen, the diagnosis may not restore health, but it’s the first step toward recovery.

Hide No Truth, which recently turned one year old, came out of a long period of recovery from spiritual abuse. As a boy, Allen’s faith was closely associated with shame. “When you’re raised in a swirl of people saying, ‘You should be a better a Christian, you should change this thing in your life,’ it gets really complicated,” he said. “I realized I had been the victim of lots of spiritual abuse. We all have demons. Mine are just Christian.” Much of Allen’s recovery has involved unlearning what he was taught as a boy. Oftentimes, one’s self-perception goes hand in hand with one’s perception of God. If one becomes skewed, the other is quick to follow suit.

Such intense introspection is a way of shining the light of truth in areas which were previously hidden in ambiguity. Needless to say, such a task is extremely daunting. Even the title Hide No Truth is prone to make you nervous. It brings to mind Jesus’ less-than-comforting words in Luke: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.” For anyone withholding secrets, these words do not ring out as good news.

Allen will admit that stepping out of the darkness and into the light doesn’t necessarily simplify one’s situation either. The songwriter, husband, and father is not one for chanting and cheering blanket-statements about redemption on the sidelines of life. He can speak personally of how painful the healing process can be. He can also speak of how coming out on the other side of suffering doesn’t necessarily leave you stronger or more certain. He recognizes that even Jesus’ resurrected body still bore the scars that were inflicted upon him on Calvary. 

“Making Repairs” is a quiet song about choosing to slow down for the good of yourself and, ultimately, others. “In making the video, we sought to capture the feeling of going through a difficult but needed process,” says Allen. “We began filming this last spring and it seems fit to release now, as many people are experiencing an unexpected slowing down and space for reflection.” Early on in the video, the songwriter is seen carrying around a wagon of his belongings including a neglected iPod (“I thought it would fix me, but I haven’t plugged it in in two years,” he confesses to God) as well as his guitar. As he hauls the wagon across farmland and goat pastures, it feels like it’s a cross to bear. It is an apt illustration for the often lonely life of a touring musician, let alone a Christian broken on the wheel of enoughness.

“Call it disruptive, I’d say I’m lucky I’d ruptured my internal affairs / My heart was broken, I needed a new one,” Allen concedes before he lets the listener know where to find him. “I’ll be in the basement making repairs,” he closes the chorus, repeating it several times at the song’s closing. On one hand, there is forlornness, knowing that no manmade tool (an iPod, a mountain bike) could ever fix him. On the other hand, however, there is hope. In snapshots throughout the video, Allen is seen jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool, fully clothed. His eyes are closed as he floats through the clear water, sometimes reaching out in front of him, other times simply floating peacefully. It is the picture of a person who has found momentary peace in a place far from his natural habitat (the opposite of a fish out of water). It is a baptism of sorts — his broken heart, at long last, replaced with a new one.

Allen is well aware of our tendencies to make pie-crust promises (easily made and easily broken). “Even that first line — ‘Lord I give you everything’ — is complicated,” he confesses to me. It’s a frightful commitment to make, that is, unless you have nothing left to lose. Fail as he might, it is an honest vow that is hinged not on his own faithfulness, but on God’s. In this sense, there is hope that God is at work “in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). 

Today, Nate can speak to how, when looking back on the past few years, God has clearly been at work in his life. “All of a sudden I don’t cry as much or I’m not as triggered as I used to be. I’m much healthier than I was when I first recorded this record or even a couple of months ago. I want to be able to grapple as an adult and not as a wounded child.” His testimony is an illustration of the Christian life. When we are given eyes to recognize who we really are, we are able to see more clearly who God really is. When we struggle to see any semblance of sanctification in our lives, we can simply remember and trust that we have already “been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). When we are able to finally lay down our weary tunes, Christ brings a new song. After all, every joy is born out of the beginning of something. What better beginning is there than resurrection?

Thus, “Good Saint” is a fitting title for Nate Allen. Not because he is the symbol of righteousness, but because he fits the description of the age old hymn “For All the Saints.” Because of God’s graciousness, Nate Allen falls right in line with those who from their labors can rest. He is also a reminder that we, too, bear the title of saints, not out of our own daily doing, but out of what Jesus did for us. As the hymn proclaims, Jesus is our rock, our fortress and our might; our captain in the well-fought fight; and, in the darkness drear, our one true light.