I agree with so many others that Whitney Houston had an uncommon measure of God-given talent. In today’s world of media hype and shallow stardom, she stands as one of the few who possessed a truly magnificent voice. Most would be envious of her success, but more and more we are seeing that in the shadows of fame linger deadly forces intent on ensaring the unsuspecting.
I spent some time the other night watching Nightline’s tribute to Whitney and a number of interviews highlighted the sadness of the situation. I couldn’t help but feel as though they weren’t just talking about Houston’s untimely death, but also the precipitous fall of her amazing career in conjunction with the downward spiral of her personal life. It is indeed all very sad, but I also see an underlying sense of tragedy that I just can’t seem to shake.
How is it that Whitney Houston could cut her teeth singing Gospel music, but never fully comprehend the power of the Gospel as it gives freedom over the power of sin? I don’t say this to be critical of Houston herself, for by no means is she alone. (Elvis Pressley quickly comes to mind.)
The temptations that accompany fame can be intense, but the roots of these types of problems go far deeper than the natural eye perceives. I honestly don’t think that most church attenders truly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense this means that the typical pastor also struggles to comprehend and communicate the transformational power of the Gospel. Of course, we all have much to learn, myself included, but as a whole it seems to me that we can do much better than we are.
A transformed life begins with a clear understanding of the Gospel of grace:
“. . . because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth . . . .” Colossians 1:5-6 (NASB)
An incomplete or errant understanding of grace creates so many of our problems. Some churches emphasize grace as the unmerited favor of God, and that it is. But grace is also the God-given life-force enabling us to do all that God calls us to do, including living in victory over the power of sin. This doesn’t mean that genuine Christians will be perfect, but that sin becomes a self-centered choice rather than an enslaving compulsion.
The Gospel of grace is not to be equated with a Get Out of Jail Free card enabling us to do as our hearts desire and still go to heaven. The amazing power of grace renders sin powerless, and living by faith is essential because only through faith are we freed from pride and able to abide in grace.
But beyond selfishness, sin has traps to which entertainers are especially vulnerable. It’s here perhaps that our greatest measure of ignorance lies. Human nature strives to exalt itself by attempting to live up to standards of all types, whether they be moral or identity related. We simply don’t realize that the power of death quickly envelopes those who attempt to forge their identities in the furnace of human performance.
The undiscerning reader may think that I am judging Whitney Houston’s salvation. I am not; that issue is way beyond me. It’s her personal downward spiral I am addressing, and not for the purpose of condemnation. In many ways I feel as though the church has failed Whitney, Elvis and a host of others. Sure, all are ultimately accountable for their own actions, but I can’t help but wonder how much pain and death could be spared if only we better understood (and thus lived) the dynamics of God’s amazing Gospel of grace.
There is more to God—so much more—than any of us are experiencing. Let’s turn our hearts to dig deeper into His truth and we’ll find ourselves celebrating hope much more than we’ll be mourning death!
For a more in-depth look at these issues, please refer to a 15-minute video clip about grace from The Search for Me identity series and the following resources on my Hidden Trails blog page: Your Promise and the SfMe Audio Files.