Common Grace and Secular Entertainment

January 20, 2016
It seems that celebrities tend to die in 3’s. For instance, June 23, 2009, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett, all died. The phenomenon goes all the way back to deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison who all died (incidentally at the age of 27) in late 1970 and early 1971. To this day, when a celebrity dies, pop culture fans follow the news to find out who will go next. It certainly is a superstition, but when favorite pop celebrities die, it makes us think about our relationship to them, especially as Christians.

Recently, we’ve had another slate of them passing. It’s hard to determine the correct triad of deaths, but Lemmy, founding member of British metal band, Motorhead, David Bowie, influential musician and actor, and well-known British actor Alan Rickman all died relatively near each other, all from cancer. The outpouring of sympathy and remembrances and reflections on the online community was great for all three members. If you followed hard rock or metal, you knew Lemmy as a talented bassist and vocalist. Even if it’s not your style of music, you can see there exists talent. Bowie, in his various incarnations over the years, has been a greatly influential musician and actor. Many of us probably know “Space Oddity”, “Under Pressure” (with other legendary musician Freddie Mercury), “Fame,” and others. My generation first was introduced to him as the Goblin King in the movie The Labyrinth. Alan Rickman, a stage actor, who our first memory from the movies is as Hans Gruber from Die Hard, is best known for his beloved adaptation of Severus Snape from the Harry Potter novels put to screen. The movement of what we thought of as an evil character in the first few books moves forward to a tragically heroic man who did what was necessary in a world gone mad, because of love. Even if you don’t know who any of these people are, there is no denying their talent.

And therein lies the conundrum for Christians. How do we handle talent, that we know to be God-given, that isn’t offered back to God? None of these three we’re friends to the church.Heavy Metal music is known for its dark and depressing themes. Bowie has flirted with sexual ambiguity and his songs haven’t lent us to believe that he sees much hope in Christianity, and Rickman’s appearance in the sacrilegious Dogma, should show us he also doesn’t see much good in the church. So, why should Christians care about pop culture, and how can we learn to appreciate God-given talent, even if not redirected back to God?

Culture isn’t ever neutral. It’s a reflection of the worldview of the culture-makers themselves. And we’re all culture-makers. God is a creating God, and He has made us to be like Him. It’s impossible to escape the desire inborn in us, to create. So, Christians and non-Christians seek to do just that. In fact, some of the most beautiful art, poetry, literature, and architecture have come from the hands of non-Christians. We can revel in talent and ability simply because it does in fact come from God, and it is beautiful. Even non-Christians struggle to divorce themselves from the beautiful because that talent they possess, comes from God who alone is beautiful.

So, I’m not saying get into Motorhead, or buy Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar, or run out to Rickman’s movie, Dark Harbor. But know this, we live in this world of pop culture, whether we try to hide ourselves in monasteries or not. We are products of it, and are still immersed in it. Our children are in it. Our neighbors are in it. Our co-workers are in it. It behooves us not to throw babies out with the bathwater when a talented pop culture persona does something out of sync with God’s Word. It means we pray for them, we challenge people to investigate and understand the worldviews behind what they do, but we also laud the beauty of the creative work they produce. 

Let me leave you with a scene from Bowie’s latest song, “Lazarus.” He had been battling cancer for 18 months before the new album was released the same weekend as his death. He was obviously exploring death, and while he couldn’t see that Jesus offered the only hope, he was grasping and searching. He sings, ” This way or no way, You know, I’ll be free, Just like that bluebird, Now ain’t that just like me.” Clever lyrics, a haunting song reflecting the searching of the world for hope. We know the our only hope of freedom from death and the curse is Jesus Christ. Yet, we can still appreciate how non-Christians are reflecting the image of God in their art, even when they don’t realize it. We should appreciate that talent, and pray for the ones who produce it to give it back to God. 

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