Selling the Soul

Robert Johnson was a blues musician who died in 1938 at the age of 27.  He was considered by many to be the most important Mississippi Delta blues singer who ever lived  having mastered the language, the sound and the guitar technique of this style.  He was hardly known in his day but rediscovered when an album of his music was released in 1961.  What fascinates me about him are the stories linked to him.

Johnson would play on street corners for tips and tidbits.  He could reproduce any song having heard it once.  None of the great blues singers of his day took note of him primarily because he didn’t play blues on the street corners.  No one walking by wanted to hear it.  He played popular pop standards instead.  Then one day…..

Out of nowhere it seemed Johnson became a blues musician and not just one of many but the best of his generation.  A story was told.  At midnight, Robert Johnson took his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation in rural Mississippi.  There the devil appeared to him in the form of a black man.  He tuned Johnson’s guitar, played a few songs and returned it.  In exchange for his soul, Johnson could play the blues like no one else could play them.  Since that time, others have made the visit to the crossroads at midnight, ready to trade in order to be great. So far, the devil has failed to appear…I think.

Johnson died, it is said, after drinking poisoned whiskey given to him by a jealous husband of a woman with whom he was flirting.   I wonder if that was part of the deal?  You will be great Robert but you won’t live long.

When I was a young man, I wanted to be great.  I didn’t make a deal with the devil because he doesn’t buy souls (has no use for them) and the price is too high (pain, misery and corruption.) I had no particular thing I wanted to be great at doing, I just wanted the accolades, fame and credibility that went with greatness.  I sought God about it but He didn’t answer.  Now I know I was being selfish and seeking human glory.  God smiled and ignored me, something He has often done with me.

The search for human glory can indeed cost a man his soul.  The devil doesn’t take it because he is not the ruler of hell but it is the power of sin that overwhelms the soul.  The long slide to permanent independence from God begins with a relentless search for self satisfaction, glory and arrogance and ends in the darkest and most miserable of places. It’s a bad bargain.

I think it odd that the Faustian selling of the soul is even considered plausible.  Why would anyone want to do it?  I’ll tell you why, in order to be GREAT!

I see.  Yeah, I understand that.

Mark 8 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (NASB)


2 thoughts on “Selling the Soul

  1. It has always been interesting to me that when it comes to folklore and legend about music, you hear most often that a musician has sold his soul tot he devil in order to become a virtuoso. I always prefered the thought that perhpas God spoke to the musician through a particular genre of music, or even a particular musical instrument, and whether or not they are conscious believers in God, a sort of connection between that musician and God is made. I am sure it doesn’t work like that, but in my head it sounds better than the ‘sell your soul to the devil’ option.

    Your comments about seeking greatness and seeking for the wrong reasons, so much so that one would consider selling their soul even, are resonate with me at the moment. I have been given the opportunity to advance myself once again as a youth swim coach but I am having to keep in mind that it is not about me and it is not for my own glory. I too want to be ‘good at something’ but I am not sure that I always know why I want to be good at that particular something and I lose sight of what is most important in the first place. Certainly I have never wanted to be so good at something that I even jokingly considered the ‘sell my soul’ option, but still.

    Recently I read in one of my coaching books the following quote, “no one knows how much you know unless they know how much you care”. I try to let it govern all things.

    Thanks for another great post!

    • You are right, Lauren, that it is musicians who are seemingly most likely to sell their souls in those stories. Although “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” actually tells the story of a young man who didn’t need the devil. I think the parable is referring to people who deny everything else in order to dominate their field. They “sell their soul” and lose everything else in the process.

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