I’ve not written here for quite a while. So long in fact that it is likely that those who follow me on their RSS feed will probably be the only ones who might read this. But today’s events have stirred up a few sentiments that I must express in writing somewhere. So welcome back from your quarantine, blog of mine!
I opened up facebook this morning, and saw a flood of statuses concerning Michael Jackson, and some to Farrah Fawcett as well. To be honest, I have no clue who Farrah Fawcett is. So much so that I had to wiki her, wondering whether I might have seen her before. The answer was still no. I suppose I’m either too young or too culture unsavvy. But we all know who Michael Jackson is.
How should Christians ought to respond to the death of a cultural icon like Michael Jackson? I think this is a bold statement to make, but I think our response is a good measure of our faith. To be clear, I use faith here in the sense of our tangible belief in the Trinitarian God of Christianity and the living relationship that belief in Jesus brings about. Now this might have confused the issue somewhat, so a simpler way to put it might be to say how well we know God and treasure him, and so become like him as we behold him.
There are 3 general ways one can respond. I didn’t really have to be too creative on this point. All I had to do was go through all the live messenger and facebook statuses.
We might express a casual lack of concern, simply because these people meant nothing to us. I think this response is only half right. It may be true that these people meant nothing to us, but because their death receives so much publicity, it ought to remind us that death afflicts everyone, and there are those who will die today who have not heard of Jesus. This should stir in us compassion for the lost people we currently know and spur us to much agonising prayer over the salvation of their souls, pleading for God to bring about his regenerating work through the Spirit in their hearts that they might have eyes to see the beauty of Jesus and place their trust in him.
Personally, I think this is a rather disgusting response. For Christians to say that the world is a better place without people like these reflects an attitude of self-righteousness, not unlike the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector told in the gospel of Luke. It is true that they did sinful things. We associate cultural icons with all manner of sinful behaviour, especially sexual immorality and wanton extravagance, and it is right to frown on such sinful behaviour. In fact, it is right to detest such behaviour. But we ought to detest such behaviour because they are abhorrent to God, so much so that to satisfy his standard of justice, he had to send Jesus to die in our place for our sins – and this includes us as well, because we are equally sinful in the sight of God – that we might receive forgiveness through his blood. The condemnation of sin in the Bible is accompanied by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so our condemnation of sin ought to be accompanied by the gospel of Jesus, whose redeeming power ought to be daily applied to our lives in godly training and sin killing.
Most Christians will respond in this manner. Culture makers like Michael Jackson are bound to leave an indelible mark somewhere in our lives and so their death also signals the death of something in our lives. As humans, I think we do not create our identity but draw it from people and things, past and present. And so when any influence on our lives passes out of this world, a hole is left in our identity that we mourn over. We say our condolences, maybe a simple rest in peace, or express our shock or sadness. There is a subgroup, who might just utter these platitudes because they feel that is the appropriate thing to say, but I would throw them into the category of nonchalance. (More worryingly, it is increasingly popular for people to mourn inappropriately over the death of celebrities for no perceivable rational reason, as we saw with Diana, and more recently with Big Brother participant Jade Goody. I might explore this at some point in the future.)
I think this response falls short of the grief God expects us to have. We are to be sad, not because we have lost someone that meant something to our lives, but because someone like Michael Jackson is headed to hell, having never been reconciled with God through Jesus, insofar as we know. We grief over those who have not had the opportunity to treasure the supremacy of Christ in their lives. All the more because this person meant something to us, we ought to make every effort to preach the gospel to those we love who have not heard or placed their trust in Jesus. There is added urgency, increased compassion and a stoked passion for the supremacy of God to be made known in the mercy he offers all through Jesus.
Can the death of an icon be a good measure of our faith? Yes. Because they are icons, their sins and death are public affairs. And so their stir to the forefront of our lives thoughts and feelings we would otherwise leave unheeded. These are problems that afflict us all. All have sinned. And all will die. But as Christians, we know that the sting of death is sin. People are afraid to die, because they refuse or cannot acknowledge the glory of God. To many of us, death seems like leaving behind all that is good in the world for something unknown. For people who do not belief in the afterlife, death seems like non-existence, away from all the goodness this life has had to offer. And to those aware of the reality of hell, in whatever form, where our sins are condemned, death seems like an awful prospect. But God has sent Jesus. He has defeated the devil who held the power of death. The accusations of Satan do not hold because we have an advocate, Jesus, who will vouch for our righteousness on the Day of Judgment. There is no sting. More so, we have been reconciled into the family of God. It is a glorious hereafter, in which each chapter is better than the one before. Christians must learn to immerse themselves more and more in the reality of heaven by knowing God better and treasuring his many perfections.
Our response to the death of a cultural icon is a good measure of how well we know God, and how much we treasure him. The more we know and treasure him, the more compassion we will feel towards those who are lost. We feel compassion because they do not yet know the joys he offers those in fellowship with him. Undergirding that compassion is the fact that God is not known! And where he is not known, he will only be glorified by his justice and wrath, and not infinitely more by his love and mercy. If we responded with delight, we must learn to humble ourselves and see that we were once children of wrath, saved only by grace. If we respond with nonchalance, we must be reminded that death afflicts us all, and that God has deigned us to be instruments for proclamation of the gospel of Jesus and fulfill this urgent calling. If we respond with sadness, we must cultivate this into grief. Grief for the lost. Grief that God is not known. Grief that does not incapacitate us but propels us to make the most of every opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.
Having found out about the death of Michael Jackson, I was somewhat shocked. But I felt little sadness at the fact that he had not known Jesus. And this nonchalance struck me to the very core of my being. Why is my capacity for compassion so small? It is because I have yet to plumb the depths of the glory of God. Every fibre of my being does not scream of the greatness of the Saviour. The ignorance of God does not pain me. I do not know him or treasure him enough yet. In this way the death of MJ is a good measure of my faith. It calls me to repent of my sinful disregard for God and my selfish living and lack of love for the lost and make every effort to know and treasure God better. But even now I am thankful that God is gracious and has not left me to wallow deeper and deeper in my sin but offers forgiveness and calls me to action for the sake of his name.
Also, check out this related post on Between Two Worlds: http://theologica.blogspot.com/2009/06/michael-jackson-1958-2009.html