In 1967, the Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. One of the classic songs on that album is titled “Getting Better.” Many people are familiar with the catchy, upbeat chorus: “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.” It’s been used many times in television and radio advertisements. Those who have listened to the entire song know that there are also some dark undertones in parts of the song. John Lennon added the verse: “I used to be cruel to my woman. I beat her and kept her apart from the things she loved. Man I was mean, but I’m changing my scene, and I’m doing the best that I can.” In addition to the explicit references to physical abuse, there is a more subtle (and humorous) juxtaposition of attitudes in the chorus itself. After Paul McCartney sings the optimistic line, “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time,” Lennon can be heard in the background singing, “It can’t get no worse.”
I’m tempted to discuss the ways that conversation in the chorus between McCartney and Lennon reminds me of the debate between postmillennialists and amillennialists, but what I would like to focus on instead is the cynical comment, “It can’t get no worse.” Lennon seems to be saying: “I hope it’s getting better. Surely, it can’t get any worse.” Whether Lennon was talking about the cultural context of the late 1960s with Vietnam and the civil-rights movement or something more personal, is such an attitude one that we should take toward our circumstances? Could things be worse?
Two weeks before Thanksgiving last year, my wife took a bad fall on a sidewalk. At the last second, she turned her face slightly, but still smashed her mouth and cheek on the concrete walkway. When she got up and looked at me, her mouth was bleeding so badly that I was convinced she had loosened or broken some teeth. After several visits to doctors, dentists, and an oral surgeon, and after a CT scan and several x-rays, it was determined that there were no broken bones, no broken teeth, and no concussion. Our dentist said he could not understand how she managed to get the injuries she did without also knocking out her front teeth and breaking her cheekbone, but she didn’t. The lack of serious injuries was likely due to the fact that she turned her face at the last second. In any case, it could have been much worse. The Lord was very gracious to us.
One week after her fall and a week before Thanksgiving, a water pipe burst in the wall behind our kitchen sink. On most evenings, I go to bed early because I wake up very early. On the night the pipe burst, I stayed up later than normal to watch a documentary. Around 8 p.m., there was nothing evidently amiss. When I walked into the kitchen around 10:30 p.m., however, I could hear a “squishing” sound under the floor. I looked down and saw water come up between the pieces of wood. I heard the water spraying in the wall behind our kitchen sink, and shut off the valve to the house. So sometime between 8 and 10:30, the pipe behind the wall had burst. We discovered the next morning that in that short amount of time, the water had advanced about twelve feet into the dining room and living room, ruining the floors. But it could have been much, much worse. Had I gone to bed at my normal time, the broken pipe would have sprayed water for another six to eight hours, and in that amount of time, at the pace it was advancing under the floors, it probably would have flooded the entire house. Again, the Lord was very gracious to us.
It can’t get no worse? Well, no. It could be worse. We are all sinners. We all, as Dr. Sproul aptly puts it, have committed “cosmic treason.” We all have rebelled against the living God. We all have betrayed our Lord. The graciousness that God displays in all of our lives every day is precisely that — grace. Undeserved mercy. As a sinner, I do not deserve to have my home spared complete flooding by a gracious act of God’s providence. As a sinner, my wife does not deserve to be spared more serious injuries by a gracious act of God’s providence. But in both of these relatively minor instances, we were spared the worst, and for that we thank our Lord.
All of us who are Christians have also been spared the worst in the most important way. As sinners, not one of us deserves the redemption we have been granted. Yet in His great mercy, God sent His Son to bear the worst that we might be given the best. Lennon was wrong when he said “It can’t get no worse.” It can. We all could have been justly condemned to hell. But thanks be to God, Jesus bore our sins on the cross that we might have eternal life, that we might be freed from sin and death, that we might enjoy His presence forever. It can’t get no better.