I’m tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
Don’t know what you’re expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
Those are the opening lines of the popular Linkin Park song Numb (2003), a song sung from the perspective of a young person crying out against the expectations imposed by those in authority.
As he enters the chorus, Bennington’s voice turns into an angry, anguished and angsty declaration of independence and identity:
I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there
Become so tired, so much more aware
I’m becoming this, all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you
For many of my generation, the youthful-sounding voice of lead singer Chester Bennington deeply resonated with many teenagers as he put their feelings in words. It echoed what they felt in their hearts. It was raw and authentic.
Perhaps that is why many people were shocked and deeply saddened at the news of Bennington’s apparent suicide in his Los Angeles residence on July 20.
It was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what they felt.
A TOUGH LIFE
Chester Bennington led a hard life, and he acknowledged that Linkin Park’s often dark subject matters were inspired by his own emotional turmoil.
He was sexually abused by an older friend when he was seven, beaten up and forced to do things he did not want to do, and suffered in silence for six years.
His parents divorced when he was 11.
The death of Chester Bennington was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what a generation felt.
“It was an awful time. I hated everybody in my family,” he said in a 2008 interview with Kerrang magazine.
“I felt abandoned by my mom, my dad was not very emotionally stable then, and there was no one I could turn to – at least that’s how my young mind felt.”
Bennington turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with his pain. He carried on these addictions into adulthood, until his Linkin Park bandmates intervened in 2006.
He was married twice; his first marriage ended in divorce in 2005 because of his time spent touring with Linkin Park.
OUTCASTS AND THE CHURCH
Numb remains one of the band’s most popular and iconic songs. At the time of writing, it’s racked up more than 560 million views on YouTube.
The music video tells the story of a young girl who is a social outcast. As we look at her arms, we notice that she’s been cutting herself, with the word “numb” carved into her skin.
She spends her time drawing, apparently looking toward the transcendent as she sketches pictures of angels, Mary and the baby Jesus. She is rejected by her classmates and repeatedly told off by her mother for failing to live up to expectations.
The girl hardly utters a word in the video, but Chester Bennington’s voice speaks her mind:
Can’t you see that you’re smothering me
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
‘Cos everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
And every second I waste is more than I can take
Though the girl knows that she might end up failing too, she knows deep within her that her mother had likewise failed to meet her parents’ expectations (“And I know/I may end up failing too/But I know/You were just like me with someone disappointed in you”).
All this time, the band are in a church, the distorted sounds of the electric guitars, rapid drumbeats, deep basslines and Bennington’s anguished voice constantly giving a voice to the girl’s inner thoughts.
Finally, numb from the pressures and expectations, and keen to be herself and apparently having heard the band, the girl runs into the church where the band was – only to find the church empty.
WILL THE CHURCH BE EMPTY?
Bennington does not appear to have been a Christian, instead, according to fellow band member Mike Shinoda, the late singer had “his own really unique views on religion”.
Neither do I know if there had been anyone close to Bennington who reached out to him in his difficult times, or who brought the love of Christ to him in his final moments.
Yet there can be little doubt that every single song, and every raw cry, was and is heard and treasured by God.
If this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms?
But this song and cry is not just the cry of Bennington or Linkin Park: It is the cry of a generation crying out in pain because of impossible expectations that no one is able to meet.
Will the church be the voice pleading on behalf of this generation to the One who has said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30)?
And, if this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms? Or will the church be empty?
One suicide is one too many. But there are so many – too many to ignore the pain that permeates a generation. If numbness is the problem, love is the solution.
Love for the church – as the source of hope – and love from the church. Because, as the life of Bennington showed us, we can’t count on people to get it right. So we need Jesus to guide our steps.