Whitney: The Good, The Bad & The Gospel
On Saturday, celebrated singer Whitney Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hilton hotel room—her body submerged in bathwater, bottles of prescription pills close by. The story is still developing, and like many celebrity death tales, will probably remain steeped in scandal and speculation. In the meantime, there are some theological takeaways. Death has a way of bringing out the good, the bad, and the gospel.
Whitney’s talents point to God as gift-giver. Whitney took dominion over music. Each performance was packed with passion, precision, and those trademark melismas that inspired many a pop star after her. She not only perfected her talent, she also dominated the charts, becoming one of the world’s best-selling recording artists. Indeed, her music was a common grace to mankind, causing us to marvel at the Giver of all good things (James 1:17). Last night, rapper and actor LL Cool J kicked off the 54th Annual Grammy Awards with a prayer, thanking God for Whitney Houston and her extraordinary gift. We can most certainly do the same.
Whitney’s life serves as a warning. The pop siren’s story was the stuff of fairytales, of prodigy and promise. But like many troubled stars before her, the dark allure of godless pleasures quickly crept in. The world offered Whitney a thousand ways to satisfy her soul, including love, drugs and alcohol. And despite her best efforts, she never did seem to defeat those demons. The diva’s strange behavior signaled an ongoing battle with addictions that, by all indications, endured to the end. We can consider hers a cautionary tale, reminding us that true happiness and lasting satisfaction are found in Jesus Christ alone.
Whitney’s death presents an opportunity to honor God. While some react to news of a celebrity’s death with yawns and shrugs, Christians are called to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). This is not limited to loved ones, but extends to a world that has much to mourn. Let’s weep with (and pray for) Whitney’s teenage daughter. Money can’t replace momma. Let’s also mourn for death in general—the loss of those made in the very image of God, marred as it is. There’s no shame in showing others God’s desire that none should perish, “but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Satan will sabotage those who claim Christ. Although this is true for every believer, it’s especially true for those in the public eye. The point here is not to speculate on whether or not Whitney was a Christian; the point is that she claimed to be. And it is Satan’s pleasure to discredit anyone who dares wear that Name. Whitney did. Born to gospel singer Cissy Houston, Whitney was raised in the Baptist church and kept close Christian friends with gospel greats BeBe and CeCe Winans. Amazingly, her rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” made the cut for the best-selling soundtrack of all time (The Bodyguard), spreading a simplified gospel to millions worldwide. And her collaborations with The Georgia Mass Choir on The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack meant that even more people were exposed to Scripture (my favorite track is the soul-stirring “I Love the Lord,” which draws from Psalm 116). It’s hard to say with certainty whether Whitney’s faith was genuine or merely professed. But I imagine Satan and his minions are happy to attack those with even the appearance of faith in Christ—especially if they’re in the spotlight.
Celebrity deaths are a breeding ground for bad theology. Take to Twitter when a superstar dies and you’ll find a culture confused about the afterlife: the deceased “watch over us,” become angels, or live forever, if only through their art. At the very least, these musings spark a conversation about life and death; at best, they present an opportunity to share the gospel—the meaning of repentance, reconciliation, and resurrection. In the next few days, take time to listen to the voice of society, with all its misconceptions, and think about how you’ll respond biblically.
Good news: God’s truth is true for everybody. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), and our sin results in death (Romans 6:23). That means you, me and Whitney. Even better, the plea to repent and believe the gospel is for everyone as well. Christ commissions us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth—from our homes, all the way to the Hollywood hills. Indeed, God’s grace reaches even to the stars. Even to us.