The Story Behind: Were You There

Were You There

By Taylor Brantley

Suffering is something we all must endure; the tool unwillingly used to strengthen ourselves in various areas of life. Greatest of all forms of suffering is suffering for God – that is, to use our suffering to learn how to rely on His strength rather than ours. Were You There is the product of men and women who used their suffering for just that.

Were You There is one of the most famous Spirituals: Biblical songs created by African slaves in America. Slaves could have blamed their woes on God – and surely, some did – but many chose to draw closer to Him, desperate for the hope only He can give. Men can take away many freedoms, but the freedom to seek after God is something that can never be stolen.

Spirituals were created by those slaves who longed for God, utilizing music to spread Biblical themes and stories. Indeed, storytelling and preaching are powerful methods, but music is the premier tool to weave themes and stories into the mind and soul. Through this tool, slaves of that age ended up creating two genres of music that forever changed American music. In the fields the songs were often sung in a somber and mournful way; thus began the blues style. In the church, the songs were sung in an uplifting and joyful way; thus began the gospel music style. Here lies the beauty of Spirituals: the product of a unified group that suffered together and praised God all the more for it.

Were You There falls into the blues category. The purpose of the lyrics is to recall the suffering Christ endured, which serves to remind that suffering in God’s eyes is not the lot of the cursed, but the blessed. It is a message we must hold fast to when we ourselves are called to suffer, an inevitability of the Christian walk.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” – 1st Peter 4:1

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