U2: From Seekers, to Saints, to Sinners, to Saved by Grace–Part 4

PART 4: SAVED BY GRACE Back in May, Mockingbird began a series examining the intersection […]


Back in May, Mockingbird began a series examining the intersection of the lives, the faith, and the music of the members of U2. You can read the earlier posts here, here, and here.

The series was born out of the observation that the personal journey of the band—in particular that of Bono, and to a lesser extent, The Edge—traces a narrative arc that is mirrored in the lives of so many Christians. That is, some crisis in our lives turns us into seekers, people looking for love or mercy (ultimately, a quest for a gracious God). Then, once we find God, we turn into “serious Christians,” committed churchgoers, and faithful Bible study attenders. This stage is often accompanied by an overt piety (Jesus fish bumper stickers) and exacting moralism (throwing away all your Grateful Dead/Jay-Z/Pantera CDs). This stage lasts until we fail. Then our own inability to live up to what we perceive to be God’s standards (or those of “Christianity”) causes us to re-think our religious lives. This is where the faith of many people shipwrecks. Or is reborn.

In our fourth and final installment, we’ve now reached the place where the band re-discovers God’s grace in the face of Jesus.

U2’s albums in the late 1980s and 1990s reflected their Christian roots, but more often conveyed deep doubt than ardent confidence in Christianity. The obvious track in this vein is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from 1987’s Joshua Tree. But check out this snippet from the track “Wake Up Dead Man” from 1997’s Pop:

Jesus, Jesus help me
I’m alone in this world
And a [messed-up] world it is too.
Tell me, tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it’s all gonna be.
Wake up, wake up dead man (x2)
Jesus, I’m waiting here, boss
I know you’re looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren’t free

But four years later, in 2001, U2 released All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The album contained a song entitled “Grace,” which began with this:

Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain

It’s last line is this: “Grace makes beauty/Out of ugly things.”

Talking about this song, Bono said this:

“…the most important thing [about the people I mention in “Grace”] is that they personify my favorite word in the lexicon of the English language. It’s a word I’m depending on. The universe operates on karma, we all know that. … There is some atonement built in: an eye for an eye… Then enters Grace and turns that upside down. I love it. … Christ’s ministry really was a lot to do with pointing out how everybody is a screw-up in some shape of form, there’s no way around it. But then He was to say, well, I am going to deal with those sins for you. I will take on Myself all the consequences of sin. Even if you’re not religious I think you’d accept that there are consequences to all the mistakes we make. And so Grace enters the picture to say, ‘I’ll take the blame, I’ll carry your cross.’ It’s a powerful idea” (U2 by U2, p. 300).

Having found grace in Christ, Bono seems now able to integrate the good and bad in his life. Take this quote, where he describes his new take on life and work:

“I thank God on a daily basis for my life in U2 because not only did this job put my talents to use, it put my insecurities and weaknesses to use. That’s the miracle for me.”

There are echoes here of the great Reformation insight that we are both saved and sinners, that we are totally justified (by a God who justifies the ungodly) and still weak human beings who fail daily. The Gospel allows us to be honest about this reality, to breathe, and to enter into a place of freedom where God does the work, and we mostly just watch.