Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson's mourners: grieving as those who have no hope

According to this report, twelve grieving Michael Jackson fans have committed suicide in the wake of his death.

Think of that. Michael Jackson was a gifted, talented individual. He was also a famously and deeply troubled man, wounded and wounding. At worse, he was also a perpetrator of the worst sort. Now, we will likely never know the true sum of it.

There is no harm in appreciating a person's gifts and enjoying his art. But — again, I stress if the report is accurate — here are people so bound up with this broken shell of a man that their life loses meaning when he dies.

Contrast that will my brother and friend Phil Johnson's moving tribute to a dear friend and coworker. His title is "At Home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8)."

It is clear that Phil, and many others, are shocked and saddened at Mike Taylor's passing. Taylor didn't perform to sold-out arenas nor get his picture plastered over magazines and posters and billboards. He never had a video on MTV. He wasn't known for bizarre eccentricities. What he was known for was an infectious and hearty laugh, and for his love for Jesus Christ and for people.

The legacy Taylor leaves is lives touched for the Gospel, made better by encouragement and instruction in the Word, better-prepared for eternity. Jackson leaves people with nothing, except (in the case of the alleged twelve) a feeling that with him gone, they're empty, and life is too painful. (For some, it's even worse than that, if this isn't a pathetic joke.)

Taylor's parting saddens all who knew and loved them, but they have a hope that can't be shaken. Taylor's passing actually sweetens their appreciate of what he believed, taught, and lived for: which is to say the Gospel.

It all brings to mind this poignant passage from the apostle Paul:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Christians do grieve. We are sad. We weep. We miss the sweet fellowship of our brothers and sisters, friends, spouses, children, who die in the Lord. But we do not mourn as having no hope.

Nor is it a wispy hope, as pagans have. I am constantly saddened to read unbelieving or superstitious conservatives over at FreeRepublic. When someone whom they like (i.e. Farrah Fawcett, recently) dies, they immediately proclaim the person as "in a better place." Why? On what basis?

On no basis whatever, with no authority and on no solid grounds.

Yet Christians have the objective historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection, and of the whole mass of His teachings which that resurrection confirms. Our hope is solid, and grounded.

If you don't have that hope for yourself, do not have reason to believe on God's own authority that you have a real involvement with Jesus Christ, then you must seek Him. Now is only opportunity you're sure of.

You have no greater priority.

ADDENDUM: Pastor Chris Anderson comments on a report that Jackson prayed with Andre Crouch shortly before his death. As is always the case with Chris, his thoughts are pointed and solid.

20 comments:

Fred Butler said...

He wasn't known for bizarre eccentricities.

Well, he did like the Detroit Tigers.

But it was one of those lovable eccentricities we long suffered with.

Rabbit said...

...people so bound up with this broken shell of a man that their life loses meaning when he dies.


A Christian sister and I talked about this recently. Humans simply are not created to receive worship (a la MJ, Elvis, Britney, etc). To give what is God's due to a "pop star" brings destruction to the fan and the star. Just look at the wreckage.

We wondered, too, at the "she's with the real angels now" comments we heard about Farrah. Both these deaths are tragic, not for the loss of their performing talent, but for the hopelessness of their deaths without Christ. The contrast with Mr. Taylor is striking. May the Lord be mightily with his family in comfort and peace.

Kim said...

The thing about people who commit suicide over their grief at Jackson's passing are doing so over someone they didn't even know personally. It's so strange.

CR said...

Well, I have to say, given what you have said in your addendum, there is at least a little hope for optimism that MJ might be with the Lord. I love thief on the cross type stories.

Also, the fact that he still had Christmas decorations says he probably rejected his JW faith/upbringing. Let me tell you something, I have JW co-worker and she won't even join us for a lunch if we're celebrating someone's birthday.

So, we're back in the "I don't know category" of MJ's spiritual state. I prefer not knowing where he is than knowing he would be in eternal punishment. But maybe we can be a little hopeful that he is with the Lord. You said you prayed for him Dan. Maybe the Lord answered your prayer.

I had to chuckle when the article said, "yes, but he didn't recite the sinner's prayer." Geesh.

Al said...

The media are no friend to these “fans” either.

They splash pictures all over the papers, television and internet, supplying the lost with an illusion of importance. They are now the dedicated; the worshipful; the torch bearers of the god who died. That delusion will carry them to the grave, but no higher.

al sends

The Squirrel said...

I've heard discussions of this phenomenon of living vicariously though celebrities. I guess I first noticed it when Princess Diana died. People taking their own lives because someone they don't even know died? So sad and so wrong.

My daughter said, just this morning as we watched a news story about the fight over Michael Jackson's kids. "Those poor kids! Daddy, thanks for not being a celebrity!"

The news of the last week has been dominated by death. It is a good reminder to us that we live in a fallen world, and a good reminder to the lost that they are going to die, and they don't know where, and they don't know when, and they need to get right with God.

~Squirrel

Stan McCullars said...

CR, the fact that he still had Christmas decorations says he probably rejected his JW faith/upbringing.

Actually he did more than that. He converted to Islam a year or two ago.

candy said...

This article is relevant to me today as I struggle with yet another family member who died, and I don't quite know their state at death. My younger brother died unexpectedly yesterday morning. My father found him. He had a real struggle with drugs and alcohol. He has read the Word and has prayed with me in the past, the most recent after I shared the story of the prodigal son with him. I hope and pray for the mercy of God, and that in the midst of my brother's struggles he called out to God to receive him. Pray for me and my family during this time.

JK said...

Dan...I agree. Phil's "eulogy" was gripping.

Jay said...

Perhaps I'm just a dour, Jonathan Edwards-type when it comes to assurance, but I just really don't like to say that I know for certain about anyone's eternal state, even the people around me who seem to be faithful. Perhaps I can have an idea or an inkling, but I don't know anyone's heart, and as a fallen human I don't think my perceptions are really to be regarded seriously, even concerning my own assurance.

CR said...

Sorry to hear about the death of your brother, Candy. I know how you feel.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Oh Candy,

I'm so sorry. I have the same regret/uncertainty regarding my MIL.

God be with you,

Julie

Herding Grasshoppers said...

That reminds me of a funeral - a Memorial Service - of a friend of mine, who died of cancer.

Her older sister had died, previously, after a life of drug and alcohol abuse, leaving the family in anguish - with little hope for her salvation. So when Pam came near to the end of her life she wrote a letter that was read at her service.

She wanted everyone to know about her faith and her hope in the Lord, and spelled out clearly what she believed and how to be saved.

To God be the glory,

Julie

Susan said...

1. Candy, may the Lord be with you and your family during this difficult time.

2. Rabbit said: "Humans simply are not created to receive worship (a la MJ, Elvis, Britney, etc). To give what is God's due to a "pop star" brings destruction to the fan and the star. Just look at the wreckage."

Rabbit, I really like what you said. It's so true. I was watching the local news reporting Jackson's death, and one woman was shown sitting on the ground sobbing and lamenting, "What am I going to do?" Unless this woman was personally helped by Jackson or had a deep friendship with him, I can't understand why anyone would worship him to such a degree as to say that--not to mention people killing themselves over him. That's adding more tragedy to his already tragic death.

Andrew said...

Hi Dan,

A friend of ours passed away on the same day as Michael Jackson. Your thoughts here (combined with those of Phil on TeamPyro) resonate with authenticity and truth. Our friend was a missionary here in Peru, of some considerable years' service.

Isn't the radiant, perfectly-timed home call of a believer, so obscure in the eyes of this world such a wonderfully bitter-sweet thing? Isn't the 'no-hope' mourning you mention around Michael Jackson such a glaring and profoundly sad contrast.

Thanks for your thoughts,
Andrew

CR said...

Jay - I think the thrust of Dan's thoughts is not that we "know" people's eternal state. Although 1 John 5:13 tells us we can know that we have eternal life and 1 John also tells us we can know who loves God - those who love the brethren, who do not love the world, etc. etc. etc.

But that is not, I believe the thrust of Dan's thoughts. I think the thrust is that here you have these people saying all these wonderful things about MJ, or Farah Fawcett saying how they are in a better place. What hope do they have that these people are there?

Incidentally, my agnostic cousin said something very profound way back when, when my father died. He says he hears all these people saying when someone dies, "they are in a better place." If they're in a better place, he says, then why aren't they dying to get there (no pun intended).

I think we ought to be praying on how to put this in practice. No doubt, some of us, we'll have people saying, poor MJ, oh well, he's in a better place. I think these are opportunities to proclaim the gospel. I think there is a purpose in this, and that is we should be praying for wisdom on how to respond to our everyday neighbors and co-workers or what have you.

I'm curious if anyone has had someone come up to them and assert MJ is in a better place. Has anyone, when confronted with this question asked the person, "well, that's interesting, may I ask you why you think that is the case?"

It's food for thought.

Rachael Starke said...

Candy,

I am so sorry to read this! May God give you His peace and wisdom as you care for your family.

Tim said...

Re: the "I don't want to bring a baby into the world without Michael Jackson" post, hard to say whether or not it's a joke. Five days later, the commenters there are still trying to figure that out.

Two days ago, someone else posted the exact same question, with "Michael Jackson" changed to "Billy Mays" -- most likely in mockery of the first posting. Of course, nobody is taking the second one seriously, but that just serves to underscore the idolatry found in MJ's fan base.

Sir Aaron said...

CR:

Interestingly enough, in the early church some Christians were eager to be martyrs.

Squirrel: The fight over MJ's kids is a very common tale even in non-celeb families. That is why you need to have a will that outlines who gets the kids and how your estate is spent.

thornscompose said...

I join the others in my appreciation for Rabbit's comments. It seems we have created a vicarious sense of significance in celebrity culture, and when you combine this with a sense of uncertainty about death it reaches critical mass. I've written more on this on my own blog (www.thornscompose.wordpress.com), but will for now say that I appreciate the critical thought here. And I would agree (CR) that there may have been hope for this pop star - though I am ill-equipped to move beyond mere speculation. Thank you for your post; God bless.