Justin Bieber has spent most of his adult life as a punchline: ‘Scientists have discovered a disease that lowers your intelligence by 90 per cent: Bieber Fever.’
‘What do you call a Canadian girl who can’t sing? Justin Bieber.’ ‘A boy is watching CSI and crying. His mum enters the room and says, “Why are you crying son?” Her son replies, “Justin Bieber got shot!” Mum says, “Don’t worry its only on TV!” “That’s why I’m crying!” ‘Justin Bieber was ranked the fifth most-hated person last year. Kim Jongun didn’t score that low, and he uses Bieber’s music to torture people.’
But the Canadian pop star’s latest album, Purpose, is his most grown-up and credible album to date. It’s also mostly about God.
The 21 year-old has been one of the most famous men on the planet for a third of his life; he has no idea of normalcy. He’s not had the same teenage experiences as many of our young people. So it’s not a huge shock that he doesn’t seem to exist on the same planet as the young people we work with. He’s an outlier and his behaviour reflects that. But at the same time, Purpose sees him asking the same questions about life and faith that many young people do, as well as facing up to his headline-grabbing mistakes. ‘Sorry’ from the album sees him address this pretty clearly, singing, ‘I know that I let you down, is it too late to say I’m sorry now?’
He recently completed his 40 hours of community service for throwing eggs at his neighbours’ house, which he told NME he enjoyed because he built a playground for some local kids. In the same interview, he talked about Purpose by saying, ‘I just want people to know I’m human.’ All of this is just a warm up for the most extraordinary track on Purpose: ‘Life is worth living’. Lyrics from this song include: ‘God sent an angel to help you out. He gave you direction, showed you how to read a map for that long journey ahead. Said it ain’t never over, even in the midst of doubt.’ ‘They try to crucify me. I ain’t perfect, won’t deny. My reputation’s on the line. So I’m working on a better me … Only God can judge me.’ It’s one of the most overtly, passionately Christian songs I can remember hearing on a pop album. It’s extraordinary.
As if all this wasn’t enough, at a recent LA concert, he sat on stage next to Seattle pastor Judah Smith and, for want of a better word, preached. The LA. Times reported it like this: ‘He talked about the importance of maintaining a positive spirit and surrounding himself with encouraging people. He credited his connection with God for helping him to get back on his feet after a string of widely publicised tabloid troubles. And when a fan in the audience — one of a dozen or so selected by the singer’s team for a question-andanswer session — asked if he had any advice on how to get through a romantic breakup, he demurred, flashing a bit of the humility that every religious leader knows is crucial in establishing a bond with one’s flock.’
There’s no overarching narrative to this, no lesson to apply to your youth group. But there’s an example and a story worth sharing with our groups and an album worth listening to. What do stories of forgiveness and grace have to say to your young people? What does it mean that the butt of many of our jokes might have a heap of positive influence on teenagers around the world? What if the most important pop star on the planet has found Jesus in the midst of community service and drug problems? For the last seven or eight years this has been Justin Bieber’s world and we’ve just been living in it, but maybe, just maybe, he could be about to point young people to a better, more exciting, lifechanging world to be part of.
GUVNA ON BIEBER
Justin Bieber has successfully accomplished what most Christian musicians would be proud of. He has created a quality-sounding album that sheds light on his flaws but sheds greater light on the grace of God. Admittedly, he can be an absolute twit at times but I’d imagine that’s the case for most of us. His music has matured and he isn’t shy about his new found hunger for God. His usual pop approach is underlined by tracks such as ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Sorry’ and ‘I’ll show you’. However a more pensive and unashamed Bieber is found on songs like ‘Life is worth living’. This song wouldn’t be out of place at Hillsong on a Sunday morning. Undeniably, Bieber is far from the finished article or model Christian you’d bring home to mother, but as he says on the track ‘Purpose’: ‘I can’t be hard on myself. I’m trying to be the best I can be and that’s all I can do. God I’m giving it all I’ve got.’