I had wondered why the death of Whitney Houston struck me so. Why the news of her being found dead in a Beverly Hills bathtub hit me so hard. After all, I didn’t know the woman. Beyond that, I’d never been the world’s biggest Whitney fan. Not even back in the day. Even when the 13-year-old me danced around my room and sung along with “How Will I Know,” I didn’t dance or sing with the same verve that I did, say, when it was Madonna or Cindy Lauper.
That said, while I’ve never been a huge fan of Whitney the Pop Star, I am a big fan of Whitney the gospel singer. I’m not ashamed to admit that the soundtrack from The Preacher’s Wife—a movie in which she also stared—is among my favorites. And I’m really not ashamed to admit that I wore that record out during some difficult times in my life. Even still—when I’m having a hard time—I’m known to queue up Whitney singing “I Go To The Rock” or “Hold On (Help Is On the Way)” or even “He’s All Over Me” and sing and swing in sweet promises of those songs.
I’m pretty sure this brings me to real reason for my grief over Whitney’s death. We all knew of Whitney’s troubles, her “demons,” as they’re being called. And yet when I’d hear her sing, “When all around me is sinking sand/on Christ the solid rock I stand” or “Say don’t you worry, no don’t you fret/The Lord has never, never failed you yet,” I heard a woman who knew to whom she could seek in the battle with those demons. Because I knew of her trials and her faith, I heard her pain and her hope in her music. And in that, I—and certainly many others—found hope in my pain too.
So when news of her death came, that hope felt dashed. Because with that news came the realization that sometimes our demons win. This is news that people of faith never want to hear. Or even admit.
And yet, we see it play out all the time. When we struggle—or someone we love struggles—with addiction or mental illness or some other “demon,” we pray and we hope. That God will deliver. That healing will come. That in our weakness, God’s strength will be found. That it will be enough to overcome. That this will be yet another one of those “I found Jesus and never took another drink” stories the church loves to tell. Those are good stories—great stories.
But many of us recognize that they are not always true stories. Or, at least, not complete stories.
Again, sometimes the demons do win. And it was with that thought, that discouragement, that I sank into some grief—for Whitney, for her daughter, for her mother, for those who loved her. But also for all of us who fight against forces or demons or whatever you want to call them that so strong they threaten to overtake our lives or the lives of those we love.
So I spent a few days angry at God—for not stepping in, for not healing the many faithful who are trapped by these forces. I stayed angry at God for allowing these demons to get the upper hand and to take away lives. For letting them win.
Until I realized they hadn’t won. Not at all.
A simple check of Facebook on Saturday with a line about the “church happening” on all the major cable news channels alerted me to Whitney’s funeral. I had hours of house-cleaning and party-prep ahead of me, so I lugged my laptop from room to room and kept her live-streaming services on in the background. Church was indeed happening. Gospel choirs sang; preachers preached; performers testified. While person after person eulogized Whitney and shared memories or songs, behind each was the story of a troubled woman who loved and was loved by God.
People can criticize that we spend too much time gloating over the lives of the rich and famous, that in televising a pop icon’s funeral we’re doing a disservice to, say, those service men and women who’ve given their lives for this country, and they may be right. But all I know is that this weekend—the good news and redeeming love of our Lord was broadcast around the globe. Who knows how many millions of people—trapped by their own demons—heard for the first time that God loves them too. That there’s nothing they can do that can separate them from that love.
It’s still a difficult thing to understand why God steps in and heals and rescues some from their demons and seems to let others succumb. We don’t, we can’t, know. But this weekend, I moved from being angry at God for not rescuing us all and letting the demons win and joined with those at Whitney’s funeral who exalted Jesus even as they wrestled with the circumstances of her life and death.
The truth is: the demons didn’t win. Though they’ll keep fighting, they never do. They’ll never really win. It’s just as we’ve been told. They nip at heels—and cause plenty of us to trip and fall hard—but one day, their heads will be crushed. All lives forever free of their traps and grips.
Because even in times when it seems he’s failed us, our God is at work, answering prayers and rescuing the faithful.