I wasn’t expecting much from Frozen 2. But when I saw it with my family I discovered something unexpected. It came during the end credits as a version of the ballad “Into the Unknown”—Elsa’s flagship song in the film—is performed by the band Panic at the Disco. What I discovered in the Oscar-nominated song was a deep spiritual wrestling, a prayer of a coming generation.
Before reading further, take a few minutes to listen to the song below:
Prayer to Unknown God
Artists are antennas, prophets, even intercessors, expressing unspoken longings that are hard to articulate. To love the world around us we must learn to listen to her art.
Consider Paul’s sensitivity to the Greek art of his day in Acts 17 at the Areopagus. Paul observes the art on the walls in Athens, quotes their poets (v. 28), and begins to winsomely explain that the longings expressed in their art find satisfaction in a personal God they haven’t yet known. By taking note, in love, of the art works of the pagan culture, Paul could identify their “unknown god” as one who could become known in the person of Jesus, the Messiah.
To love the world around us we must learn to listen to her art.
As I listened to “Into the Unknown” in Frozen 2, I heard the prayer of a coming generation—not of a 30-year-old millennial munching on popcorn in 2020, but of the 3-year-old who will one day come of age in our current cultural milieu, wondering if there is something more than the shallowness on offer. I heard a questioning of the prevailing 21st-century Western belief that we are a random amalgamation of chemicals with no meaningful beginning or ultimate end. I heard a gasp for the pure air of transcendence in the oxygen-deprived world of existential boredom. I heard a prayer to know an unknown god.
The protagonist of “Into the Unknown” is haunted by an unknown voice calling her into an unknown space. The first verse makes clear the voice is from a “You” who seems to be pursuing the protagonist. As the song builds we discover this “You” has a voice but isn’t seen, and it’s a voice that wields a certain kind of growing “power.” We might consider this “You” a “Thou” of sorts—a kind of unknown divine being or force.
The protagonist is desperately trying to resist this “You”: “I can hear you but I won’t. . . . There’s a thousand reasons I should go about my day and ignore your whispers which I wish would go away. . . . I’m sorry, secret siren, but I’m blocking out your calls.”
Clearly this “You” represents a disruption to the protagonist’s safe life. It’s risky to leave what is comfortable for some unknown future, after all: “Some look for trouble while others don’t. . . . I’ve had my adventure, I don’t need something new. . . . I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you.”
And yet, the protagonist confesses, the proposal of this “You” is seductive in all the best ways—growing stronger, wooing, drawing, opening, calling. The thought of following this “You” is exhilarating, becoming more difficult to resist: “Every day is a little harder as I feel your power grow / Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go into the unknown?” This mysterious “You” is also relatable, seemingly able to empathize with the protagonist’s condition: “Or are you someone out there who’s a little bit like me? Who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?”
Throughout the song there is a repeated choral mocking, questioning the protagonist’s curiosity and contemplation. It’s the voice of cynicism and doubt—the background noise questioning the questioning. The wrestling ultimately comes to a resolution in a series of questions that leads the protagonist to yield and follow this “You”: “Are you out there? Do you know me? Can you feel me? Can you show me? Where are you going? Don’t leave me alone. How do I follow you, into the unknown?”
Heeding the Call
In the lyrics we find the questions our children and children’s children may eventually ask. In the desolate landscape of a realized secularization, they will hear the call of this voice with greater clarity than many of us do. This mysterious voice will be faithful to woo and summon them into unknown spaces of great risk: the vulnerability of being known, the uncomfortable shedding of shame through unconditional love and acceptance.
They will follow this “You” into a new kind of life where the longings of the stories they watched and read and listened to as children will become realized. They will not be able to resist this voice. His calling will be effective as they meet him and rejoice, knowing it was worth giving up comfort to heed his call.
May we pray toward that end. May we—like Paul—love the world by paying attention to the cries and prayers of her art, dignifying rather than dismissing their longings and tensions. May we help make known the unknown Voice that haunts people in all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways.