U2 has always been one of my favorite rock bands since I was a teenager. I remember a couple of songs in particular that really connected with me as a young guy who was seeking to know God in a more personal way. Though most Christian folks I knew regarded them as a “secular” band (and indeed they were – and they never promoted themselves as a “Christian band”), I knew they were believers and many of the songs they wrote seemed to reach out to the ears of those (like myself) who were willing to hear and to identify with the many spiritual sub-themes woven throughout the songs. The lead singer, Bono (whose real name is Paul Hewson), struck me as kind of a psalmist. He wasn’t afraid to complain to God in his music (and everyone knows that David wasn’t without a whole lot of faults), but through all of his troubles he cried out to God and God actually called him “a man after His own heart.” Since I was very young, this had always been my heart’s cry as well; to be a man after God’s own heart. That is still my heart’s cry!
As the years went on, U2 became one of the bands I was fan of, but mostly at a distance. I enjoyed their music and I knew that the lead singer, Bono (as well as some of the other guys in the band) professed a faith in Jesus (one they were not ashamed of and mentioned often in interviews) – but I didn’t listen to them a lot. Then, back in 2001 I re-acquainted myself with the band when their album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” came out. In many ways, this album came across as an apparent rekindling of the band’s faith in God and when you’d watch the concert performances it really was like God himself walked into the room… Something was obviously going on with these guys and, despite whatever criticism the Christian world had for their (“non-Christian” lifestyles) these guys were gathering thousands of young people and taking them along on a journey where are relationship with God was not painted in rose-colored stained glass, but was gritty and real and honest; Not to mention a God that doesn’t fit into the neat little cookie cutter of modern churchianity. These guys were never ashamed to say they followed Jesus, believe He is the Messiah, and that He is God. They never hid the fact that they had problems and had made mistakes in their lives. And I often found it interesting that while some of my Christian friends spoke pretty harshly about them (pointing to things like their drinking and smoking habits), here you have Bono; a guy that has been married to one wife for 30 years (clearly not your typical rock and roller character). Meanwhile, some of the most vocally religious people I knew were going through divorces after just a few short years of marriage! While most Christians never get too far from their comfortable weekly church gatherings, U2 was traveling the world, helping the impoverished, and even doing so in the name of Jesus – all without managing to be “religious” about it! Their frustration with the modern church system actually came out in some of their songs, yet Christ was always the picture of the God who is there with us through every trial (no matter how much we scream in anger at Him when we don’t understand and when our heart longs in hope for something we cannot yet touch). I love the song “When I Look At The World”, where Bono (singing to God) is trying desperately to see what God sees (through His eyes) and how difficult that is because his own perception of the world is always getting in the way (and then also his frustration with those who claim to be religious but do nothing about the suffering all around). In the end Bono sings that there is no way for him to see as he should see, without God.
When You look at the world
What is it that You see?
People find all kinds of things
That bring them to their knees
I see an expression
So clear and so true
That it changes the atmosphere
When You walk into the room
So I try to be like You
Try to feel it like You do
But without You it’s no use
I can’t see what You see
When I look at the world
At the end of one of the concert videos (Elevation Tour 2001), the band is singing the last song and Bono shouts out, “Thank You!” and the crowd cheers, but Bono continues, “THAT’S FOR JESUS!” Then, his shout turns into a song and he sings out, “Thank You!!!” and repeats, “That’s for Jesus!” The band is playing at full volume and all the guys in the band are smiling (you can tell this is a special moment) and Bono shouts out, “Unto the Almighty! THANK YOU!!! UNTO THE ALMIGHTY!!! THANK YOU!!!” Just then they all break into a rocking rendition of hallelujah and it’s just amazing! There was such a sense of God in the room and I knew that every person in that auditorium was experiencing something that brought the reality of God much closer to them. That’s what I mean about these guys bringing people on a journey to discover that God exists and touches humanity and it doesn’t have too look like anything you see in church – because it’s very real.
With all that as my introduction, I would like to copy a section from the book “Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas”. This book is a lengthy interview with the lead singer of U2, Paul Hewson (most commonly known to everyone as “Bono”), and in the following excerpt he shares a bit about his faith and perspective concerning God’s love and grace. I really like a lot of what he has to share here and I wanted to share it with you. Following the excerpt from the book is another excerpt from a more recent interview with Bono and the band.
If you’re not a fan of U2, that’s ok. I’m not trying to be a commercial for their music. I’m also not a fan of everything they do or believe so please don’t think I’m painting them as role models. But I’ve found some inspiration in their music on many occasions as well as in some of the things these guys (Bono in particular) have shared about their faith and I identify with it. Maybe a little of it will encourage you too… or not, and that’s ok too. 🙂
In His grip,
Bono (from the book “Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas”):
“My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] 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.
There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.
Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?
It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.
I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace. You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
That’s [the stupid stuff] between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
No, it’s not far-fetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher.
I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this.
So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched
If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.”
U2’s Bono: “Yes, Jesus is the Son of God”
by Joe Kovacs
In a brand-new interview with Focus on the Family set to air Tuesday, the rock star and activist sounded like “Mere Christianity” author C.S. Lewis who contended Jesus was a lunatic, liar or Lord, and concluding the obvious choice was Lord.
“When people say ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ … this is not how Jesus thought of himself,” Bono said. “So, you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who He said He was or a complete and utter nut case.”
“And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God,” Bono said, according to a transcript provided to Religion News Service. “I understand that for some people and we need to … if I could be so bold, need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous.”
Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, also discussed one of the most famous biblical characters, King David, who authored many of the Bible’s psalms, which are actually songs in the original Hebrew.
“First of all, David’s a musician so I’m gonna like him,” Bono said.
“What’s so powerful about the psalms are, as well as they’re being gospel and songs of praise, they are also the blues. It’s very important for Christians to be honest with God, which often, you know, God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.”
While Bono praised David’s “honest language with God,” Jim Daly of Focus on the Family noted that “sometimes it gets you into hot water with the more orthodox folks, because they see you as edgy, maybe too edgy at times.”
“You’ve gotta be very careful that grace and politeness do not merge into a banality of behavior, where we’re just nice, sort of ‘death by cupcake,’” Bono responded. “Politeness is, you know, is a wonderful thing. Manners are in fact, really important thing. But remember, Jesus didn’t have many manners as we now know.”
U2’s 1983 album “War” features the song “40,” with lyrics from Psalm 40 of the Bible.
The rock star talked about Scripture openly, including the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus told a man not to wait and bury his father, but to follow Jesus immediately.
When Daly noted, “Seems cold-hearted,” Bono replied: “No, seems punk rock to me. He could see right into that fellow’s heart. He knew he wasn’t coming and he was just, it was pretense. We’ve gotta be a bit more cutting edge, not look to the signs of righteousness. Look to the actions.”
Bono, a native of Dublin, Ireland, says his faith has prompted him to fight disease and poverty with the ONE Campaign, a humanitarian group he founded.
“It’s very annoying following this person of Christ around, because He’s very demanding of your life,” he said, laughing. “You don’t have to go to university and do a Ph.D. to understand this stuff. You just go to the person of Christ.”
Since the early 1980s, U2 has dominated rock music across the planet with many songs that include lyrics about God and His coming kingdom.
On U2′s 1983 album “War,” one of the songs was simply titled “40,” and was based on Psalm 40 from the Old Testament, with lyrics stating:
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay …
He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear
On the 1987 smash album “The Joshua Tree,” the gospel-sounding song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” features lyrics specifically referring to Jesus:
I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But, yes, I’m still running
You broke the bonds
And You loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh, my shame, you know I believe it
One of U2′s earliest hits, “Gloria,” (Glory), even used Latin lyrics at times to express their praise for God:
I try, I try to speak up
But only in You I’m complete
Gloria, in te Domine
Oh Lord, loosen my lips
Bono has occasionally expressed his Christianity in previous interviews, as have his bandmates.
In 1985, U2 guitarist the Edge, whose real name is David Evans, told Star Hits, “People seem to think Christians are incredibly pious, arrogant, superior individuals, but that’s not true at all – I’m a very normal, very real person.”
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. told Time magazine in 1987: “I am a Christian and not ashamed of that. But trying to explain my beliefs, our beliefs, takes away from it. I have more in common with somebody who doesn’t believe at all than I do with most Christians. I don’t mind saying that.”
Time called U2 “Rock’s Hottest Ticket” in 1987.
In the same issue, Time also reported that bass-guitar player “[Adam] Clayton, who alone has not announced formally for Christianity, says simply that for journalists, ‘religion was an easy angle, a hook to hang a story on. We all believe in much the same things but don’t express ourselves in the same way.’”
U2 has released 12 studio albums and is among the all-time best-selling music artists, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. The group has won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band, and in 2005, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility.
Also in 2005, U2 topped Billboard’s inaugural Money Makers list, bringing in more than $255 million that year, ranking the band ahead of the Rolling Stones, which generated $152 million.