Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Tragedy of Whitney Houston’s Christian Life

On 11 February 2012 Whitney Houston passed away in a Beverly Hills hotel room. I must admit that I was saddened by the news, partly because Whitney came to fame during the period when I was growing up, and so she was someone whose music I knew, but mainly because Whitney was a singer who claimed to be a Christian. Her life turned into a great tragedy. Starting off with many hopes and dreams, it seems that she mixed with the wrong crowd, and she suffered greatly as a result. Whitney started off a Christian, but many are wondering now if she finished one. In the end it is God’s prerogative to determine each person’s eternal destiny, but we can say that Whitney definitely gave in in a significant way to the efforts of the world to reeducate her.

It is a choice that every Christian has to make. Am I going to live out Christian truth? Am I going to live out my faith? Or am I going to join the crowd, and give in to the world? It is a choice that every single Christian has to make every day: to follow the cross or to follow the crowd?

The tragedy of Whitney Houston was that of a young Christian girl growing up and coming under the influence of the world, leading to mental and ultimately physical destruction. She started off proud of the fact that she was a Christian, that she grew up in the church, singing gospel songs. She wanted to sing in order to praise God for his gift of music. She once said, “God gave me a voice to sing with”; and sing she did!

Yet many Christians found it hard to believe that in the early 90s she got involved with Bobby Brown, an R&B singer and part-time rapper, who at the time did not have a good reputation. Brown had started out singing with the R&B boy band New Edition, but he was reportedly voted out of the band because the other members were concerned about his lewd and disorderly antics on stage.

Something of Brown’s attitude to life can be captured in his hit single My Prerogative, which was written by Bobby in 1988, reportedly in response to being booted off from New Edition: “They say I’m crazy. I really don’t care. That’s my prerogative! They say I’m nasty, but I don’t give a damn. Getting girls is how I live!”

About a year after these words were penned, Whitney met Brown at the Soul Train Music Awards. Eventually in 1992 they got married. The result? Over time Whitney slid deeper into drugs. In her interview with Oprah in 2009 Whitney confirmed that she and Bobby used to regularly smoke marijuana laced with cocaine. There were reports of incidents of domestic violence, and Whitney became increasingly erratic in her behavior. All of this took a toll on her voice, and basically destroyed her career as a singer.

Thanks in large part to the influence of her husband, Whitney was drawn away from God and into the dark side. It seems to me that she lost sight of the supremacy of the kingdom of God, and of her need to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. She basically allowed herself to be reeducated by the world, and paid a terrible price. This is also something that Whitney’s saw happening. In the interview with Oprah, Whitney talked about a time when her mum came to her house with the police, trying to rescue her daughter. She said to Whitney, “I’m not losing you to the world. I’m not losing you to Satan … I want my daughter back.”

Whether at the end of her life, Whitney genuinely turned back to God, only God ultimately knows. The evidence suggests that Whitney was still doing drugs up until the time of her death; and the official cause of her death has been determined as probably being an overdose of “a narcotic substance [probably cocaine], prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and alcohol.” But even if Whitney was right with the Lord when she died, we definitely have to say that she was mangled by the world, and never fully recovered. Her life was a tragedy, but it also stands as a warning about what can happen to Christians if we allow ourselves to be reeducated by the world.

The simple fact of the matter is that all Christians are living in the world, which means that it is very easy to be tempted by the world, and to forget that the ultimate reality is the kingdom of God. To what extent is what happened to Whitney happening to other Christian people today? Following Whitney’s death, it is legitimate to ask: Am I slowly being lost to Satan? Am I paying more attention to the crowd, to the fashion, music, and way of life of the world, rather than following in the way of the cross? Have I gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd, seeking to fit in with the world, somehow forgetting what it means to live as a Christian?

We can go through some of the marks of compromise with the world: Following your friends to parties where all sorts of ungodliness goes on because you reckon that that’s what’s cool; using language however disguised that uses God’s name in vain, or that is full of “f this, f that” and other expletives just because your friends talk that way; paying more attention to the messages of the world communicated through music and movies and videos than to God and his word; thinking that romantic love is a matter of doing stuff with your boyfriend or girlfriend without ever thinking about the importance of commitment as expressed through marriage; getting romantically involved with whomever, regardless of whether they have the same beliefs as you. How can a Christian ever be one flesh with someone who does not care about the kingdom of God?

I wonder: how many times in her marriage to Bobby did she regret getting involved with him? Imagine if Whitney had met someone for whom the kingdom of God was important. It is possible that her life and the length of her career could have been very different to what we know today. In talking to Oprah about her decision to divorce Bobby, Whitney said: “I wasn’t going to be in an unholy matrimony. I wasn’t going to be living with a man who decided that he wasn’t going to live the same way I did, or thought about marriage and me the same way... being loyal, being dedicated, being true, being faithful … all those things. I wasn’t going to live with someone like that.” Sadly, this realization of incompatibility between her values and those of Bobby came eighteen years too late. It makes me wonder: if only she had seen earlier the incompatibility between the kingdom of God and Bobby’s belief in his own prerogative.

Christians need to remember that the kingdom of God will replace all human empires, and rule the world forever. God’s kingdom is the ultimate reality. We should not despise this truth by the way we live our lives. As Jesus taught us: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33).

In the words of one of Whitney’s last songs: “As I lay me down, Heaven hear me now. I’m lost without a cause, after giving it my all. Winter storms have come, and darkened my sun. After all that I’ve been through, who can I turn to? I look to you. I look to you. After all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong.” I hope that these words were close to her heart on the day that her earthly life slipped away.


Matt Viney said...

Thanks for this post. A sobering reminder that life isn't a game.

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your comment. I don’t think that Whitney realized her full potential for God, which is tragic. But I guess the same thing applies to all of us in varying degrees.

John Logo said...

What´s written here, is totally the truth. The same thing happened to Elvis Presley and many other celebrities, who unfortunately abandoned the path of Our Lord. This must get us all to meditate and react before is too late if we´re walking the wrong way. Thanks for your words.

Anonymous said...

Sobering viewpoint - thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Got many aims, but do they really Glorify your name? Question Christians shld put in their hearts.