I am a baby boomer. I was a teenager in the 1960s and in university in the first half of the 1970s. It was the era of the sexual revolution, the youth movement, the civil rights movement, the drug culture, hippies, the peace movement, and massive upheavals in the social, political, and economic realms. The times, they were a changing.
The “prophet” of all of this change was Bob Dylan, a songwriter and singer who inspired a host of other singers and songwriters, as well as political movements.
One of the key songs of the era was “Blowin’ in the Wind” written in 1962 by Bob Dylan and sung by a number of other artists, most notably Peter, Paul and Mary, who were—let’s face it—far better singers than Dylan.
Christians (I included) were puzzled by all of this. They didn’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, we could appreciate some of the ideals of the youth movement—their advocacy of love and peace, their concern for the poor and the weak, their seeking after justice. And yet, in other ways, the youth movement advocated for a lot of ideas and actions (including drugs and the sexual revolution) that were far from Christian.
I remember a young Christian youth pastor in my area who wrote a response that said Dylan was wrong—the answer was not blowing in the wind but was in Jesus Christ. I think someone else wrote a version of the song that said, “The answer is in the living God.”
I sort of agreed, but I noticed that the youth pastor’s writing and the writing of the alternative version were not nearly as artistic as Dylan’s. Both have been forgotten today, while Dylan’s song endures.
Looking back more than a half-century later, I think that, to some extent, both sets of writers might have been writing about, if not the same thing, at least somewhat similar or related things. After all, Dylan was widely recognized as a secular prophet. His songs are full of biblical imagery. He is a Jew who later espoused Christian faith, although he has remained so enigmatic and reclusive that likely no one is exactly sure what he believes.
“How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky” is a much more profound way of saying, “How long does it take someone who is searching for ultimate truth to finally recognize the reality of God and encounter Him?” It better captures the condition of the seeker, who is not sure what he will see when he looks into things.
As well, the wind is a biblical image for the Holy Spirit of God (John 3:8). So, in a sense, “The answer is blowin’ in the wind” is a more artistic and beautiful and rich and profound way of saying: “The answer is in Jesus.”
Now, make no mistake. I am not saying that Dylan was a Christian when he wrote the song or that he intended it as an expression of Christian faith. Dylan was a seeker rather than a believer in 1962.
Furthermore, the answer to life is not a vague image with no specific meaning. The answer is Jesus. The Biblical Jesus. The Son of the Living God. But, looking back now, I realize that Jesus is far more mysterious and majestic and profound than the two Christian responders (and I) understood. Jesus is the answer, but Jesus is greater and grander than our simple statements. One evidence of that is that, even though Dylan was not aware of it and he certainly didn’t intend it, there is a sense in which Jesus was speaking through Dylan as well as through the youth minister—and through Dylan He was speaking to people that the youth minister, with his simple answers, could not reach. Bob Dylan did not have the answer in the 1960s, but he probably inspired many young people to search for truth and justice. I still find his song inspiring today.