Guest post by David Barker, professor at Heritage Seminary in Cambridge, ON
In U2’s most recent album Songs of Experience, the band bridges two songs “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” with what best could be called “anti-beatitudes.” The lyrics are:
Blessed are the arrogant,
For theirs is the kingdom of their own company.
Blessed are the superstars,
For the magnificence in their light
We understand better our own insignificance.
Blessed are the filthy rich,
For you can only truly own what you give away,
Like your pain.
Blessed are the bullies,
For one day they will have to stand up to themselves.
Blessed are the liars,
For the truth can be awkward.
U2 is calling out a series of core values of 21st century North American, and perhaps global, society: arrogance/pride/self-importance, fame/rock-star status, wealth/riches, bullying power, and “alternative truth”/lies. The irony, of course, is that the danger in some of these beatitudes emerge out of U2’s own reality. Jimmy Fallon, a late-night TV host, called U2 the most famous band in the world today. Certainly, every member of the band has more money that he knows what to do with, and a band such as this does not reach the heights of fame and fortune that it has without some kind of deep temptation to arrogance, prideful self-importance, and abuse of power, and even truth.
But in the context of these songs, and many others U2 has produced, there seems to be an honest sense that they are sincere in confronting these values and are seeking to call us all to a different world-view (I think of Bono’s interview with Eugene Peterson). How they state the consequences of such “anti-beatitudes” is riveting: a collapsed world, others rendered insignificant, only pain to give away from selfish wealth, bullied as bullies, and yes, the awkwardness of truth in the face of lies.
As we hear these words we are immediately reminded of the famous beatitudes of Jesus: blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the merciful, and more. That’s what I suspect U2 is after. But I am taken to another well-known biblical text that prophetically speaks to much of what U2 is calling out. Jeremiah, in 9:23-24, writes:
This is what the LORD says:
– Let not the wise boast/show arrogance in their wisdom,
– Or the strong/powerful boast/bully in their strength/power,
– Or the [filthy] rich boast in their riches.
But let those who boast boast in this: that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises:
– Kindness/love/mercy/grace [hesed],
– Justice/care for the poor, widow, and orphan [mishpat],
– And righteousness/moral uprightness [tsedekah] on the earth.
For in these I delight, says the LORD.
As Walter Brueggemann has said, the first triad is a “triad of death” (“death has climbed in through our windows,” v. 21), and the second “a triad of life.”
Per Jesus and Jeremiah, all people are called to a fundamentally theocentric (God-centred) world-view. U2 has powerfully spoken into that call. The good news is that God has provided the means to actually live that out through Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit that regenerates and redeems our hearts and lives that are continuously bent in the direction of U2’s anti-beatitudes.