The Waifs were in concert at Burswood Park (Perth) on the WA Day holiday, 7 June, and my wife and I went along to see them. As on previous occasions when we had heard them, they were fine. They looked a little worse for wear, but their voices and music hadn’t aged a bit.
The Waifs are a Western Australian folk-rock trio who started out in 1992 and made it big. They have won Aria Awards and opened concerts for Bob Dylan. These days Donna Simpson, Vikki Thorn and Josh Cunningham live far apart and only come together occasionally to perform.
One of the songs they sang at the Burswood Park concert was “Light-house”, from their album Up All Night. It is a crowd favourite, with a jaunty tune, and an insightful lyric.
When I first heard “Lighthouse”, I found myself thinking that it contains some striking parallels to the Christian message.
The song begins with an appeal to the lighthouse to “Shine your light across the sea/ For a wayward sailor girl like me”. It then shifts to an appeal to the lighthouse man to guide the sailor “through the storm/ Back to water safe and calm.”
After the opening appeals for help, the song offers a personal explanation: “Sometimes I need a lighthouse for my own/ It gets so dark I can’t see which way I’m going”. It then returns to a plea for help, “Lighthouse man I’m all at sea/ Shine a little lighthouse light on me”.
Through the lighthouse and sea metaphors, The Waifs portray our common plight. In one way or another, at one time or another, each of us is that sailor—wayward and gone astray, in the dark and unable to see the way, all at sea and at a loss, in need of a lighthouse and a guide. The song resonates with our emotional and actual experience. We can feel its truth (and even more so when the music accompanies the words).
Some people may believe that they are sailing along satisfactorily and don’t need any help. Of them The Waifs sing:
Woe betide those that say
They don’t need no light to light their way
They think they’re safe enough on their own
Drown in murky depths below
The Bible pretty much agrees with The Waifs concerning the plight of mankind. It observes that collectively and individually we are lost … in darkness … in danger … in need of light.
The Bible, however, goes beyond observation to explanation. It reveals that the source of our trouble is the loss of our relationship with God. Being estranged from the God who made us and loves us, we are estranged from the source of all safety and satisfaction.
The Bible explains the reason for our distress. But it does not stop at the explanation. It goes on to identify the solution. If the ultimate problem is our separation from God, then the ultimate solution is our reunion with God. He is the haven to which we must sail. And we need a lighthouse man to guide us back to him.
The Waifs address a “lighthouse man” in their song, and imagine him as a saviour of sorts. But he is just a fiction for the sake of the song. The Bible, however, speaks of a real Saviour, a real Lighthouse Man.
It tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to guide and save us.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He also said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
In some respects, The Waifs could be singing about Jesus. He could be, all in one, the song’s lighthouse building and lighthouse man and lighthouse light. But of course the parallels cannot be pushed too far. For in certain places the song expresses sentiments at variance with the Christian worldview.
In the fourth verse, for example, The Waifs sing: “Lighthouse man can’t help us all/ Some are saved and some will fall”. At this point in the song the lighthouse man could not be Jesus, for Jesus’ power and will to help us is unlimited. He can help us all. Yes, it is true that, ultimately, “Some are saved and some will fall”. But that is not because Jesus “can’t help us all”. It is because some “refuse to come to [him] to have life” (John 5:40).
The fourth verse continues:
He’ll show you where the danger lies
But can’t help if you capsize
He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore.
Again, this lighthouse man is quite unlike Jesus. For Jesus not only shows us where the danger lies, but also helps us to avoid the danger. And if we do capsize, he can help us to right the boat, or to float on the flotsam, or even to walk on the water! Furthermore, Jesus does not leave us alone to “steer [our] own ship back to shore”. On the contrary, he keeps us company on the journey.
The Bible records an extraordinary account of Jesus sailing with his disciples in a storm. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion,” when the storm struck and the waves threatened to swamp the boat. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” (Mark 4:37-40).
Taken symbolically, this true story has an ongoing relevance to the lives of those who trust in Jesus. It teaches that Jesus is in the boat with us, he cares for us, he is in control of everything, and he exercises that control for our welfare. Although it may sometimes seem that he is asleep during our storms, we should still have faith in him, knowing that his presence alone is protection enough.
In the final lines of “Lighthouse”, The Waifs succinctly restate our plight and repeat our plea. However you look at it, the song finishes on the right note.
We all need a lighthouse for our own
It gets so dark I can’t see which way I’m going
Lighthouse man I’m all at sea
Shine a little lighthouse light on me
For myself, I frankly admit that I am all at sea and that it’s so dark I can’t see which way I’m going. I frankly admit that I need a lighthouse of my own. And so I have called out to Jesus, the Lighthouse Man, to shine a little light on me.
Yes, I know “this sea is full of misery and woe”. But I also know that Jesus will “light my lonely way back home”. And I know he will do the same for anyone else who asks him.