Yeah, yeah, I’m well aware that’s it’s nowhere near cool to like U2 right now, what with their beyond megastar status and that whole iTunes debacle. But you know, if I cared one iota about being cool, I wouldn’t really be writing this blog, would I?
The story behind “40” is pretty well known. The band was recording their album “War” and, with little to no studio time left, found themselves without a good closer. "So then we had this slightly unusual piece of music” explained The Edge, “and we said, 'OK, what are we going to do with it?' Bono said, 'Let's do a psalm.' Opened up the bible and found Psalm 40. 'This is it. Let's do it.' And within forty minutes we had worked out the last few elements for the tune, Bono had sung it, and we mixed it. And literally, after finishing the mix, we walked out through the door and the next band walked in."
There’s a duality in Psalm 40, combining as it does both a thanksgiving and a lament. So joyous is the psalmist over his salvation at God’s hands that he breaks into a new song, but there are still troubles at every turn, and so he begs God for more protection.
Bono encapsulates the essence of this duality with one simple lyric, “How long?” In his introduction to the Book of Pslams (yes, he actually penned one in 1999), the singer noted, “’40’ became the closing song at U2 shows, and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape of T-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: "How long (to sing this song)." I had thought of it as a nagging question, pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort -- to me, too.”
And it does bring comfort, and that’s pretty cool, whether U2 itself still is or not.
“Though I am afflicted and poor, my Lord keeps me in mind. You are my help and deliverer; my God, do not delay! (Psalm 40:18, NABRE)”