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A Tortured Existence

So the king is dead. What a sad end to a sad life; a pathetic end to a pathetic life (by which I mean to use pathetic in its true sense as “arousing pity and sympathy). I don’t know that I have ever seen, in one man, such a combination of self-love and self-loathing, shocking narcissism combined with equally shocking self-hatred. Truly Michael Jackson was unparalleled.

Andrew Sullivan offered a few interesting thoughts.

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.

I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours’ and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.

I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life. And I pray that such genius will not be so abused again.

From beginning to end, Jackson led a tortured life and he led much of it in full view of the public. As much as he was secretive, being whisked about behind masks and tinted windows, the sheer volume of cameras and the unending interest in his life meant that his every step was recorded. We saw him change his skin color, change his face, and almost change his gender. Through it all, we gasped at his obvious self-loathing, expressed in his desire to change everything he is and was and manifested in his increasingly bizarre behavior. He was a tortured soul and I doubt we can even imagine what was going on inside that increasingly twisted heart, that increasingly conflicted mind.

Michael Jackson was in so many ways a product of this sick celebrity culture (that he helped create) that will never rest satisfied until it has both created and then destroyed the newest celebrity. We want our celebrities to start strong and finish weak, to begin with a bang and then fizzle, pop and sputter, all for our enjoyment and entertainment (Susan Boyle stands as the most recent example of this). Jackson gave us so much to talk about, so much to enjoy. More than any other celebrity he embodied the “vanities” of Ecclesiastes. He was at one time known for what he did so well and then was known for being a freak; he was at one time fantastically wealthy and then utterly broke; he was once loved and then despised. He had it all and yet, it seemed, he had nothing. All of it was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Andrew Sullivan ended his reflection on Jackson by saying, “I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life.” I hope the same. Truly, I do. I never cared much for Michael Jackson. I listened to his music occasionally in life but, after losing my childhood collection of 45’s, I didn’t ever buy one of his songs or albums. But it was impossible to miss him completely as even decades after the peak of his fame, his face was often in the news and even a simple skim of the headlines would show that his strangeness was increasing year-by-year. Through all of this I haven’t ever hoped for much on his behalf. But I hope now that he has finally found peace. Sadly, though, his life showed no evidence that he had found the One who is peace, the one who offers true peace. And if that is the case, the true horror of it all is that Jackson will spend all of eternity in the same twisted mind that tortured him for most of the fifty years he was given here. Those fifty years seemed to drive him to the brink of utter insanity; the thought of an eternity in that state is too horrific to imagine. We may like to think that death inevitably brings peace to a tortured existence. But Scripture gives us no reason to find hope except in the One who offers hope by saying “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” May you find that rest today so you can enjoy that rest eternally.