Bieber…Now Appearing in Our Furnace Room

I sometimes wonder why our American culture often finds it amusing whenever someone has the courage to step up and do what is morally right. Rule-following optimists, as portrayed in our movies and other entertainment, are nearly always embodied as unrealistic, clueless do-gooders. Is it now considered entirely naive to hope for the best in people, even against all odds? Living as we do in such a cynical age, should Christians let ourselves off the hook for not bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things (1 Corinthians 13:7)?

One of my favorite scenes from the 1987 version of The Untouchables occurs when the character of Eliot Ness – horribly uninformed about the level and extent of police corruption in the city of Chicago – leads a raid on a suspected cache of illegal liquor. Ness opens the charge by encouraging the assembled officers with a shrill cry of, “Alright now, let’s do some good!” The raid is ultimately a dismal failure, seizing only a harmless shipment of umbrellas, as the men working for Al Capone had been tipped off by the cops in plenty of time to move the booze elsewhere. Later, in the police station, Ness overhears a couple of officers laughing and joking with each other, terribly amused by the idea that this guy thought he might actually enforce the laws of the land. It’s just a great snapshot of corruption, greed and compromised ideals.

Whenever hopefulness gets torpedoed by cynicism or drowned out by the relentless swirl of degrading and depressing events that show up on our smart phones and television screens, we all become just a little more worldly and a lot less likely to look to Jesus to speak into our lostness.

This past week, try as I might, I simply could not get away from finding out more than I cared to know about pop star Justin Bieber. CNN, along with other media outlets, apparently found his recent antics in Florida to be on the same level of newsworthiness as the ongoing crisis in Syria and the violent spate of bombings in Cairo. A “Breaking News” message informed me that “Two breath tests police gave Justin Bieber after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence indicated a blood-alcohol content below 0.08%” and “Bieber, 19, admitted to drinking, using marijuana and taking prescription pills, after his arrest Thursday in Florida.”

Back in March of 2011, a little less than three years ago, Pastor Dave Cover posted some thoughts to this very blog on “Bieber Fever” and his own understanding of where that level of enthusiasm originates within the human soul. His post – Longing for the Real ‘Justin Bieber’ – is well worth a second look in light of recent events and our culture’s love-hate relationship with its heroes. Specifically, though, I found Dave’s closing lines to be freakishly prescient:

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to turn out so well for the 17-year-old Justin Bieber. No human soul can receive that kind of non-stop worship from so many people and not be destroyed by it – bit-by-bit, year-by-year. He seems to be handling it well right now. But he’s only 17. I hope, even pray, I’m wrong.

Three years does not a lifetime make, of course. Bieber is still a kid, by most standards, and the decision-making frontal lobes of his brain won’t be fully formed until sometime around the age of 25. So there is still hope. All that being said, it would seem that Dave’s assessment of the fragility of the human soul to endure nonstop adoration was spot-on. While I have always found Dave to be a pretty reliable predictor of human behavior, it must be said that he has learned to lean on God for providing him with an ability to discern rather than relying on his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Three years ago, I took my daughter to see the film Justin Beiber: Never Say Never. Like Dave, I was surprised to discover that this Bieber kid actually had some talent and (if nothing else) a sincere desire to write and sing songs that were largely positive, upbeat and life-affirming. The image that remains in my mind is that of a young, no-name kid sitting out on a cold street in Canada strumming his guitar to zero acclaim or notice, just making music and singing earnestly about his desire to find love in the world. The scene of prayer before one of his concerts made me wonder if maybe he would surround himself with people who cared more for his soul than his sales.

Shortly after we took in the Bieber movie, my daughter went on vacation. When she got back, I surprised her – or scared her to death, depending on who tells the story – by setting up a life-size cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber in her bedroom. When she turned on the light, there he was! That cardboard cutout occupied a place of great honor in her bedroom for many, many months. No doubt about it, this represented a solid victory in the gift-giving category.

Time marches on. Since I try not to appear too terribly interested in this sort of thing, it’s hard for me to pinpoint that precise moment in time when the headlines started to erode my daughter’s enthusiasm. I can say, however, that what comes to mind nowadays on those rare occasions when she and I might talk about Bieber is his well-publicized stay in a Brazilian brothel, the disrespect he demonstrated toward former president Bill Clinton and the increasing sexualization of the lyrics to his newer songs, none of which seem to be in keeping with our shared hopes that Bieber would somehow manage to escape self-destruction.

A few weeks ago, we woke up to a house that was colder than it ought to be. It wasn’t even that cold outside, but our house was down to 62 degrees. Weird. I went downstairs to the furnace room just to see if anything obvious presented itself as a problem. Though I was very much preoccupied with keeping my wife and our children warm, I couldn’t help but notice that Justin Bieber – the cardboard cutout version – was standing off to one side of our dusty storage area, now being used to store an old straw cowboy hat on his head. I remember briefly wondering how long he had been there, but didn’t have time, under the circumstances, to dwell on it.

Dave was right. Where Bieber disappoints, Jesus delivers. When seen in the proper light, it’s so incredibly merciful for God to periodically temper our enthusiasm for the people, places and things of this world. How grateful we should all be as we keep trying to pour our hearts into vessels that were never meant to contain them, grateful indeed that their frailty and phoniness is eventually revealed to us by a Lord Who seeks the admiration and worship we would otherwise give to His creation. Even though my daughter has since moved on to putting up One Direction posters in her room, it seems to me she is not pouring as much hope into them “delivering” for her.

Jeremiah 2:11-13
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Proverbs 25:28
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

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