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Bono, Jesus, Judas and me

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JudasThere are many reasons I love U2. Musically, they are adventurous and original. Their songs are always vibrant, melodic and compelling. The Edge is not a virtuoso, but he has fashioned one of the most recognizable and striking guitar sounds in rock. Even his legions of imitators can’t get it right. Bono, of course, is an unparalleled performer and a singer of surprising range and power.

But on a personal level, U2 lyrics have always meant a good deal to me. It seems that Bono’s spiritual path has so often been in step with mine. When I was more celebratory about my faith, Bono gave us songs like “With a Shout” and “Gloria.”

In “Rejoice” Bono sang words that fired my young faith and left a lasting impact on my attitude toward Christians in politics and faith-based initiatives:

I can’t change the world
But I can change the world in me
If I rejoice

I can’t change the world, but I can change my heart. That’s what those words said to me then. And if I can change my heart, make it a little less selfish, a little more caring, then maybe I will treat my brother better and maybe I’ll have fewer and fewer enemies. And if I am more considerate of the people I meet in my day-to-day struggle to breathe my next breath, then maybe the people I have a nice word for, or open a door for, or loan a dime to — maybe those people will do something nice for another stranger, and so on, and in effect, I will be doing my small part to change the world.

I don’t vote for Christian candidates, necessarily. I don’t believe in a Christian “agenda” in politics. Look at the Joe Bob Briggs piece on “What Would Jesus Do” to get some thoughts on this same theme. My charity begins at home. Bono donates time and money to all kinds of worthy causes, but I have neither time nor money these days, so I do what I can, which is pathetic, but I try.

Yes, I don’t live up to my ideals. But I do the best I can. Bono told Larry King the same thing last weekend.

BONO: What makes man evil?

KING: Yes.

BONO: I think — I mean, if you ask a big question like that, and you have to look into — you have to be responsible and to follow those questions through to the people and study the people who have asked them over eons, over centuries. And you get to the great books of wisdom, and you get to the scriptures, in my case. And you know, I’ve — listen, I am the worst — I am at the very bottom of the list of the food chain of — you know, I sort of need to practice a whole lot more Christian.

A little garbled and rambling, but I think the point is clear: Bono doesn’t see himself as a very good Christian.

But I think any person who claims Christ and says he is a good Christian is lying. It’s impossible to be a good Christian. Read, again, that Joe Bob Briggs column. Jesus set an impossible standard for us to follow. And that’s by intention, of course. That’s what grace is for. That’s so we’ll realize that we can’t change the world. Changing the world is Jesus’ job. We can only change our hearts.

The people who say they are good Christians are the people who create and perpetuate religion, but religion is just a tool of the devil.

That’s why when “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came out, the song meant so much to me. I was tired of trying to live up to other people’s standard of what a Christian should be.

From that time forward, Bono’s lyrics have dealt primarily in themes of struggle and redemption, the idea that we all fall short of the glory of God. A pivotal character in the theology of Bono has been Judas.

And with Judas, I have wound my purple prose around to the reason for this post — to discuss the lyric of “Until the End of the World.” The song, to me, sums up Bono’s idea of faith in a modern, conflicted, tempting world.

The song opens from a personal view point … a character talking to another character — two people who haven’t seen each other in a while. One has been down in the hold, which is clear is a metaphor for Hell.

Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
The low-lit room — the place of the last supper.
We were as close together as a bride and groom
A Christian symbol for Christ and his followers.
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you
You were talking about the end of the world
Again, the last supper, which was meal of import, but not for the reason’s the apostles thought. Of course, at this meal, there is no record of Jesus explicitly discussing the end of the world, but that was certainly a theme of his ministry.
I took the money
Who took the money? Judas, of course.
I spiked your drink
Just a random image of betrayal with no biblical basis.
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
Many theologians believe that the motivation for Judas’ betrayal was that he totally misunderstood the mission of Jesus. He thought Jesus would immediately restore Jewish political power and defeat the Roman legions. Judas betrayed Jesus in an attempt to speed the process along, and then was shocked to despair when he saw Jesus tried and crucified. Jesus was talking about things of the heart, not earthly kingdoms.
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You … you were acting like it was
The end of the world
Again, a clear image of Judas, who gave Jesus the kiss of death in the garden, and though Jesus knew Judas would betray him, it still saddened him.
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You … you said you’d wait
’til the end of the world

A fairly non-biblical summation of the themes of the song — betrayal and redemption. Clearly, Judas regretted his betrayl (he hung himself and threw away the silver, after all). But is that enough to get Judas redemption? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait … wait until the end of the world. For Judas, and for ourselves.

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About Howard Owens

  • The Theory

    wow. intense article. well written and thought out.


  • Eric Olsen

    Very, very deep and important Howard – you’ve been on a real roll lately. Thanks!

  • princeofpeace

    Very interesting. I also experience that special relation with U2 lyrics. It may be that they write in a way that we can ‘feel’ that they are in step with us fans. It may be more than that, after all God is in sovereign control.
    One thing I would like to point out from the end of your post you mention that we will have to wait ’til the end of the world to see. I just wanted to point out that we can be sure right now…if we trust Jesus as our Lord and savior!!
    Ephesians 1:13-14
    Ephesians 4:30
    1 Thess 4:13-14
    Phillipians 3:20-21
    2 Timothy 4:6-8
    John 14:1-4
    There are many more which show us that we can be confident in the promises He made to us, when we are trusting in what He accomplished for us!

  • Free beer?

  • No Aaman the bible is.

    Fabulous post. U2 is one of my favourite bands and Jesus a true humanist.

  • He’s their bassist?

  • Eric Olsen

    yes, I miss Howard, but he seems to have been called away

  • Eric, very kind of you to say.

    I stopped blogging for about eight months.

    When I returned, I decided against cross posting on blogcritics.

    Frankly, I got burned out on arguing with the kind of leftist idiots I found too often on BC. Too many of my posts here got attacked with personal viciousness and leftist illogic that it was more upsetting than fun. That’s not to say, btw, that all liberals/leftist idiots … just too many of them encountered here. The names Brian and Victoria spring to mind.

    I’m back to blogging again … mostly on media issues. I invite you to stop by.


  • I’d like to say just a couple of words in defense of Judas. Obviously, this guy was THE ultimate patsy in the history of world literature. It’s not real likely that an apostle of a perfect Jesus would betray him like this willingly, unless it was under fear (like Peter’s denial) or absolute physical duress.

    Maybe Yahweh “hardened his heart” like he did with the Egyptian pharoh to set up the Exodus. One way or another, Judas was set up to do the dirty work.

    By the way, the atmosphere around Blogcritics has improved markedly in your absence. Brian and Victoria are long gone, along with She Who Must Not Be Named. The hardcore hatin’ has dropped off about 99%, largely from the loss of just those three.

    Which is not to say that we don’t still have a healthy share of cranky left wingnuts to keep us fair and balanced. For starters, we’ve always got the likes of evil ol’ Jim Carruthers to keep us in the pink. (XOX, Jim)

  • princeofpeace

    Interesting comment on Judas, Al. Judas’ love for money was greater than his love for Jesus. One example is when the woman poured out expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. Judas called it a ‘waste’. He complained that the money could have been used to help the poor, John 12:6 “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put in it.”
    Some other verses about Judas:
    Luke 22:3
    John 6:70,71
    Judas never trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just as you mentioned Pharoah, God used them for the good of His people.

  • Judas was aligned with the standard vision of the prophesy in his expectation that Jesus would immediately restore Jewish political power and defeat the Roman legions — I’ve read suggestions that his disappointment when he realized that Jesus’ purpose was not political, rather than greed or inherent treachery, is what led Judas to betray Jesus.

  • Peace, I think you’re misreading Judas.

    Judas was a materialist in every sense of the word. He couldn’t see beyond the material world. The concept of a spiritual life was lost on him. Which begs the question, why did Jesus call him to discipleship?

    Judas didn’t mistrust Jesus. He misunderstood him. He expected an earthly kingdom ASAP, not a spiritual kingdom and some heaven and earth kingdom somewhere down the road. He wanted the Romans wiped out here and now.

    Once he realized his mistake, it was too late, and thus he took his own life. If he were pure corruption, as many Christians believe him to be, he would haven’t taken the silver and gone to Vegas, or wherever heindonists went in those days you know? He wouldn’t have killed himself.

  • princeofpeace

    The one thing that we dont have is any notion of Judas repenting. The scripture doesn’t say that Judas was sorry or that he repented or that he asked for forgiveness. He recognized that he sinned (Mt 27:4) but I don’t know that he repented. The fact that he immediatly commits another hainus sin in suicide, leads me to think he still did not trust Jesus

  • DrPat, I think Judas didn’t consider it betrayal at first. It was impatiencence. He was trying to push Jesus into taking action to claim his kingdom. He wanted to hurry the process along. But of course, it’s a process that can’t be hurried because God has his own plan, and we see but through a glass darkly.

  • Eric Olsen

    Howard, Brian and Victoria are LONG gone, and if you’re doing media stuff all teh more reason to drop some off here now and then.

  • U2 Lover

    Thank you for pointing out some of the deeper spiritual meaning behind what, at first glance, appear to be almost dismissively simple lyrics.

  • well written article. I love U2 for some of the same reasons- honesty- /my painting Jesus Broke out the lambchop Puppet to try and Cheer up Paul McCartney is in a similar vein…