Pastor Bob O'Bannon
If you pay attention to pop culture, there is no way you could have missed the fact that David Bowie passed away on Jan. 10. What made Bowie’s death so noteworthy is the fact that the man had been battling cancer for about 18 months, and somehow managed to keep the news quiet. In those last months of his life, he reportedly kept working at his art, finishing his last album, Blackstar, which was officially released just two days before his death, and to considerable acclaim.
Bowie is one of those artists who is probably considered more “important” than he is actually liked, like a Bob Dylan or a Lou Reed. You might not be able to name many of his songs, and it wasn’t like he was riding the top of the charts on a regular basis (although the new album has gone to #1 in the US), but his lasting influence and impact on pop music is undeniable.
Although I am not familiar with Bowie’s entire catalog, I thoroughly enjoy much of what I’ve heard. Songs like “Heroes,” “Starman,” “Changes,” and “Under Pressure” are truly great songs that sound just as fresh and vibrant today as they did when they were released as long as 45 years ago.
Many see Bowie as a weird, godless, pretentious dilettante with nothing redeeming to offer. They don’t see what all the fuss is about. But others attribute to Bowie an almost godlike status. Bradford Cox, lead singer of the band Deerhunter, wrote, “There’s nobody that’s had a bigger influence on my entire life—not just on the way I make music, but also the way I think and feel about things—than David Bowie.”
Right or wrong, there are music fans who would say that their favorite singer actually saved their lives. They remember when they were young, lonely, full of despair, absent of any hope for their future, feeling utterly insecure about themselves, and then suddenly a David Bowie came into their lives, and they felt like there was hope. To some this might seem silly, but to others, it was the difference between getting up the next day or taking a handful of pills.
The reverence and adoration given to stars like David Bowie affirm what Christians know to be true — that everyone is longing for a savior, that everyone wants someone to do for them what they can’t do for themselves, that everyone wants someone to tell them they are OK.
Cox went on to explain: “I keep hearing a lot of people say things like, ‘David Bowie made it OK to just be yourself’ . . . . and while I think that’s a great sentiment, it feels a little off to me. David Bowie was the guy that made it OK for you to be your ideal self—your imagined self, your self in space, your self as a superman. I love him for that.”
As a man made in God’s image, and to whom God was gracious to give extraordinary artistic gifts, David Bowie deserves our respect and admiration. But David Bowie makes a poor savior for the simple reason (one among many) that he couldn’t overcome the worst problem that we face as a human race — death. This is something Bowie seemed to know, as demonstrated in the haunting video for the song “Lazarus,” which depicts two versions of himself — the sick David Bowie, struggling for life on his deathbed, looking frail and gaunt; and the vibrant David Bowie, working diligently at his desk, clamoring to write another great song.
I don’t think David Bowie wanted to die.
So, is Bowie in heaven? Only God knows. David Robertson has written an interesting article in which he points out the inconsistency of secularists who deny heaven and the existence of God, and yet are quick to assure us that a man like David Bowie must surely be in heaven.
Bowie apparently said the existence of God is “unquestionable.” He said much of his life has been lived in search for a “ tenuous connection with God.” He recited the Lord’s Prayer at a concert in 1992 — not in a mocking tone, but with apparent reverence and sincerity.
If Bowie is in heaven, it’s not because he made groundbreaking albums; it’s not because he lived a moral life; and it’s not because he made it OK for people to be their “ideal self.” It would only be because he entrusted himself to Jesus Christ, the only real hero, the true superman, who proved his worthiness to be called “savior” by defeating death in his resurrection from the dead. (Heb. 2:14-15). That’s something not even David Bowie could do.