Two years ago, Huffington Post suggested nine reasons why Bono was “spot on” about what it’s like to search for God. What do you think of them?
In May of 2016, Huffington Post celebrated Bono’s 56th birthday. The article listed nine reasons that U2’s frontman is “spot on” in describing the search for God. Here’s a recap, with some research pointing to why Bono is spot on.
Music is primal. Bono states that music—and, later, the words we attach to it—“does for us what solid, even rigorous, religious argument can never do.” He adds, They introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. I sense this is what exiles and religious “nones” thirst for. Experiencing God.
Furthermore, infants remind us Bono is right about music. Babies can dance a jig before forming a word. Newborns are born sensitive to the rhythms—music—of language before language itself. They can distinguish the timbre and intonation of their mother’s voice and prefer it to any other. Music is primal.
Metaphor is the only way we approach God. “Why do we need the lyric poetry of the Psalms? Because the only way we can approach God is, if we’re honest, through metaphor, through symbol. So art becomes essential, not decorative.” Amen. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “All our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor.” Metaphor is not icing on a cake (like we see in most sermons). It is the main ingredient. Teaching is simply part of the mix.
[The next four are from Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (Penguin, 2006)]
Cool is overrated. “Coolness might help in your negotiation with people through the world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, becoming raw.” In the Eucharist, we expose ourselves to God, opening our hands, hearts, entire lives to God.
God often leaves the building. Bono reminds us even if you have a church, it doesn’t mean you have God. It’s often the case that “God, like Elvis, has left the building.” What’s left is “a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit.”
Love is complicated. Bono doesn’t let his religious world get too complicated. Love is a different matter, however. “God is love, and as much as I respond in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now, that’s not so easy.”
Everybody’s religious. Bono’s talking about religious instinct—the universal sense that the world ought to make sense. “It’s supposed to be a secular society, but I look around: everybody’s religious. They’re superstitious, they pray.” Spot on. Bono adds that this sustained sense of superstition is bringing down the Enlightenment and scientism.
Get honest with God. “It’s very important for Christians to be honest with God. That’s difficult, we are often most honest with God when we’re telling him what we want—or what we want to be. As Bono rightly notes, “It is often the case that God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.
Find life. “I just go where life is, you know?’ Bono says it might be in the back of a Roman Catholic cathedral, in the quietness and the incense, which suggest the mystery of God, of God’s presence, or in the bright lights of the revival tent. “I just go where I find life.” Spot on—as life is often not where Christians imagine it to be.
Stay Awake. “I enjoy the test of trying to keep hold of what’s sacred, and still being awake, walking around, breaking through the plate glass window. It’s one thing being in that holy huddle; it’s another thing taking yourself out there into the world.” Spot on. Throughout scripture, God warns his people to stay alert. How many do?
U2’s universal (and enduring) appeal is remarkable, given the band is vocal about Jesus. It’s not remarkable, however, when we remember music and metaphor are primal—a spot on truth that Enlightenment thinkers like Steven Pinker routinely disdain. He sees music as essentially meaningless, an add-on to life. He could not be more wrong.
This week marks my 64th birthday. I’m eight years ahead of Bono, but he’s light years ahead of me in knowing what it’s like to search for God. I think he’s spot on.
 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary (Yale University Press, 2010) 102-105.
HAVE A GREAT BIG BLESSED BDAY
. . . singing my tune. . . . I bought the phonograph record “Days of Future Past” – this weekend – remembering hours of listening to it, transported. I don’t even have a record player any more! I couldn’t resist. Paid the 50 cents. I can just look at the cover and hear it.
(and a happy birthday to you!) All best. Dance a jig!
Happy Birthday Mike! Thank you for your steady, ongoing insights and challenges to our thinking and discussions, every Sunday night—for years! You are making a great contribution! Love this post about Bono and Art and knowing God. I just got through curating a weekend conference on Art and Our lives with God. This would have been a great article to add to our conversation!
This is a timely and excellent post. Best to listen closely to Bono.
1. This is terrific stuff! Thanks.
2. Happy birthday to you!
Re this quote: “God often leaves the building. Bono reminds us even if you have a church, it doesn’t mean you have God. It’s often the case that ‘God, like Elvis, has left the building.’ What’s left is ‘a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit.'”
I had a vivid picture of this phenomenon this morning. I filled a mug with water and put it into the microwave so I could make tea like I do every morning. Everything lit up, the fan came on, the turntable spun, and when the time was up, it beeped at me and flashed the usual message, “Your food is ready.” But the water temperature was unchanged. After several more tries, including resetting the circuit breaker, I had to conclude that “God had left the building.” The microwave looked the same, acted the same, sounded the same, but no transformation was going on. The part of the microwave that actually produces microwaves is broken, and there’s not even an error message for that!
The comparison to church (and maybe even our personal lives) is obvious. “He did not know that the Lord had left him.” (about Samson, recorded in Judges 16.20)
I am in the camp of people who have been evangelized by U2. Before becoming a Christian, I remember singing “40” at a concert with 15,000 of my closest friends, not knowing until years later that I was singing Psalm 40. And then after reading about the 4 Chapter Gospel, I nearly jumped out of my chair when listening to the lyrics of “A Sort of Homecoming, which capture the tension of the Kingdom of God now and not yet.” No wonder why that song resonated in my soul, even before my conversion. Bono the evangelist!
31 years ago Joshua Tree was released and, with it, ” I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” One side of me believes Bono has. The other side? Not so much as we’re all on the quest of sanctification; being like Jesus for real. My belief is we’re complete when we shed the mortal coil and meet Jesus face to face. The piece is spot on. I only wish these Dubliners hadn’t caved in on the abortion issue. Just a reminder of the flaws each of us carries…
Tru dat, Wynn