Do you notice a pattern? Whether it’s the bluesy voice of Elvis Presley (dead at 42), silky smooth alto of Karen Carpenter (dead at 32), tortured genius of Kurt Cobain or soulful voice of Amy Winehouse (both dead at 27), the pattern is the same. Amazing talent brings fame and fortune which then swallows up these artists in a whirlpool of sin, addiction, and death.
Just a Cautionary Tale?
Whenever we watch these stories unfold, we are inclined to view them all as cautionary tales. Fame and fortune do not bring happiness. They had the world and lost their souls. Don’t set your heart on money or you could end up the same way.
There is indeed something to be learned from these tragedies and the horrible consequences of sin and idolatry displayed before our eyes. But considering how thousands line up for days to audition for American Idol, it seems clear that American society is not heeding the warnings. Despite the obvious unhappiness of so many celebrities, throngs of aspiring singers still clamor for the world’s accolades and for the chance to be gossiped about in sensationalist magazines.
So yes, the early death of so many talented individuals does expose the emptiness of riches and success. But there is another lesson to be learned here, and it has to do with common grace. You see, the Evil One is not content with keeping people from hearing of God’s saving grace; he also wants to steal from the world those unusual gifts of common grace.
Consider how people talk about Whitney Houston. They speak of her voice as being “a gift.” Her voice was a gift from God (she was born with the talent), and her voice was a gift to the world (she shared it with us).
Notice also how people use terms like “awe” and “wonder” when describing her vocal prowess. “I was in awe of her.” “Her voice was magnificent.” “She was one-of-a-kind.” These are the kinds of descriptions we attach to majestic landscapes we see in creation.
People found a certain level of joy in Houston’s talent, which is why thousands of people who never knew her personally are devastated at her demise. And once you trace back the path of joy, you wind up moving from the gift to the Giver. The language of awe points us back to a God who is truly awesome and majestic.
It’s easy to follow the path from being awed at Houston’s talent to being awed at the God who grants talent in the first place. Whenever we see people in this world whose gifts inspire wonder, we are seeing signposts that point us to the God who loves the world enough to shower us with gifts of common grace, even as His greatest expression of love is demonstrated through the blood-drenched cross of His Son.
Robbing the World of Common Grace
So why do so many of these gifted individuals perish tragically? Certainly the perils of idolatry – money, fame, power – play a role.
But there’s more. The Evil One not only hates it when people find joy in God. He also hates it when people find joy in God’s gifts. So if he can snuff out the brightest lights of common grace, he will try. And that’s one reason we see a pattern of sinful squandering, self-destructive behavior that leads to the silencing of golden voices.
Don’t get me wrong. The superstars are always complicit in their own demise. In fact, in Houston’s case, she confessed that her sinful struggle with drugs was caused by her own heart. In a candid interview in 2002, Diane Sawyer listed a number of drugs and asked Houston which one was “the biggest devil” for her. Houston’s response?
“That would be me. It’s my deciding. It’s my heart. It’s what I want and what I don’t want. Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. The biggest devil is me.”
It’s an honest confession, and one that reminds us how intertwined are the causes of temptation (Satan and self). Houston’s story also reminds us that – just like in the story of the prodigal son – sin leads to the squandering of the Father’s good gifts. The Evil One is not content merely to hold people in spiritual bondage and lead them to hell. He wants to diminish even the contributions they make to the common grace we benefit from in society.
So remember, sin always affects more than the individual who commits the offense. And that’s true for you and me too. Whenever we sin, we are consciously or unconsciously affecting those around us.
A pastor who fails morally is stealing more than another man’s wife. He is also robbing those around him of the opportunity to benefit from the particular gifts God has given to him. Satan loves for people – Christian and non-Christian alike – to squander good gifts from above and deprive the world of the joy of common grace.
That’s why the bright lights of common grace go dark before their time. It’s also why Satan wants to render ineffective in the church the gifts of those who have tasted God’s saving grace. Beauty is anathema to the Evil One, because all goodness and beauty finds its source in God.
The good news, of course, is that for the Christian, “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” There’s no need for any Christian to serve as a cautionary tale. Nor do we need to be an example of Satan’s thievery of the gifts we contribute to Christ’s church. We hope in the One who has conquered sin and death and lavished His grace and gifts upon His children.