Because there weren’t many movies kid-friendly enough for our young children’s eyes to see (and because I’d always loved it myself), our family used to watch The Sound of Music at least once a year — and each time the beauty and story-line and music would sweep us from our family room off to pre-World War II Austria.
Years later, my daughters and I still become absorbed in Maria’s story. On a rainy afternoon last week, we pulled out our worn copy and I now have words from the song Maria and Captain von Trapp sing in the moonlit gazebo stuck in my head. Do you know the scene? The captain has just asked Maria to marry him, and she sings her response:
“Perhaps I had a wicked childhood,
Perhaps I had a miserable youth,
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth.
For here you are standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should.
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.
Nothing comes from nothing,
nothing ever could.
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.”
Same beautifully filmed scene I’ve watched so many times, and same beautifully sung song. Why, this time though, do the words bother me so much? I find myself saddened by his standing there loving her because she did something good. I feel disturbed by her belief that “nothing comes from nothing, and nothing ever could.” Why do her words seem so wrong?
I think Richard Rodgers wrote into the lyrics what so many of us believe — that any unexpected good we receive must be the result of good we’ve done. Maria must have somehow earned her rags-to-riches, dreamed-of-by-many romantic outcome. Work hard, we think, and we then deserve our happy ending. And in life this is mostly true.
We’re taught from an early age that if we do nothing, we can expect poor results in return: we find that if we study for an exam, we might make a 98, and if we don’t study, we’ll probably make a 68. So of course, the captain’s love for Maria must be verification of some merit-earning performance in her past.
“Oh,” she sings, “My youth was tainted and I don’t think I’m worthy of your love. But you say that you do love me, and so I must have actually done something good!” Those words sadden me.
The lyrics miss the really good news.
For the glorious upside down and seemingly backwards truth of the gospel is that something does come from nothing. The heart-stopping news Maria couldn’t imagine is this: the Creator of the universe sets His heretofore unimagined love upon those who’ve had a wicked and miserable youth. He stands there loving unworthy me, with all my nothing I have to offer. I am unable to bring Him a good enough past — and I don’t have to. In His marvelous love I see it’s not true that nothing could ever come from nothing.
The best something actually comes from nothing.
The best something is salvation from the sin of our past (and our present and future) and this something comes to us not “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy.” (Titus 3:5) My salvation comes from nothing I have wrought, for any righteousness I might gather about me is as a filthy rag before a holy God. In my youth and childhood, as in my adulthood, I never had to do something good enough to earn His favor.
My Savior’s love, the best something to ever exist, is all free and unearned.
My nothing and His waterfall
All I’m able to lay before His feet is the fact that I was “once foolish, disobedient, and led astray.” We each were “slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy …” (Titus 3:3) All we bring before God is our empty-handed nothing. But out from this very nothing trumpets the glorious truth of our Father’s unimagined love for us. His sort of love is more beautiful than love I might have earned.
For “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us … according to His own mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior …” (Titus 3:5) His love pours over me as a waterfall of kindness and mercy (Rom. 5:5), not because of any good I’ve done or will ever be required to do.
Love that’s snatched away
The words Maria sings are age-old — as old as the original sin in the garden — and as new as my wrong thinking when I believe that somehow I’ve earned and deserve the good that comes my way. Satan whispers that God cheats His children; that we must grasp for self-rule and then daily self-preserve. We must earn and never rest, for of course God won’t really come through for us. We must do something good.
But when I believe I must perform my way through each day, achieving for others and for my Father, I operate from a place of relentless fear. I believe that at any moment I might un-earn love and care. I teeter on the precipitous edge of the cliff named Love Can Be Snatched Away. I turn away from my Lord’s better sort of love: His loving-kindness means to flood my undeserving, un-good heart with a love that cocoons and sets me free.
His care frees from the shackles of favor-earning performance.
Saved from precipitous cliff edges
I can’t match Rodgers and Hammerstein’s genius in rhyme, but God’s startling love for His child sounds more like this:
The best things come from nothing.
Best things always should.
So, somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done nothing good.
On this day, rest in the depths of His boundless and free love. Fall at His feet in amazement. Your Lord’s care for you is more beautiful than any you could earn or any you could have imagined.
For He stands there loving you, whether or not He should.
Theatrical release poster from The Sound of Music by Howard Terpning