There have been a number of inspirational sayings floating around the Internet this week attributed to Iman, the 60-year-old Somali-born supermodel and wife of British rock star David Bowie who succumbed to cancer a month ago, after a year-and-a-half secret battle with the dread disease. Much was made of the fact that Bowie released his latest album with multiple references to living and dying mere days before his death which pretty much caught the world by surprise. Always into theatrics, it appears that even his death was staged as a piece of theater, captured in the stark video of “Lazarus” as Bowie sings from his hospital bed — Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen — and, with finality, slips away into a wardrobe never to be seen again.
What also showed up, however, was a strong faith in God shared by this genuinely happy couple that only grew stronger as the end neared for David. It is a faith that also seems to be steadying Iman now that he is gone. From all appearances, and verified by those close to them, this couple was deeply in love, and that love would have had to have been deepened further through surviving the ugly secret we didn’t even know was going on for the last eighteen months of Bowie’s life.
According to a number of sources, one of the last things Iman tweeted before he died, was, “The struggle is real, but so is God.”
That is huge. That is a statement from someone who not only has a strong faith in God, but is being sustained by that faith. We’re not talking about a faint or desperate hope or wish here; we are talking about a faith that is so strong, the writer of Hebrews calls it “substance,” as in, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (italics mine) (Hebrews 11:1). It is so unusual to see a faith like this evidenced in people of such fame and fortune. Such a faith often eludes those who possess so much of what this world has to offer. It’s why Jesus talked about how hard it is for the rich to enter heaven — not because they are being cursed or punished for their wealth, but that their wealth gives them a false security so that they think they don’t need God, or they have so much to distract them.
In an obvious mockery of this illusive wealth, David does a tragic little dance in his death-bedclothes in the “Lazarus” video:
By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass
He never found it. It’s his own version of, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul?”
I think we have every reason to believe that David is in heaven, and that the reality of God that sustained Iman through his death, and still sustains her in her loss, sustained him as well through his last days.
So, upon this rare occasion, we get to learn from a supermodel and a rock star — not the people we usually go to for help with struggle and loss — that, “The struggle is real, but so is God.” Faith in God doesn’t make the struggle disappear — it doesn’t alter the reality of the circumstance — it alters the person in the circumstance, making the supernatural natural.
In The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, Lewis has souls from earth walking around heaven when they are not yet fit to be there. These visiting souls find it difficult to get around because, to them, everything is so solid. The grass hurts their feet. Lewis is illustrating that the things we didn’t see on earth will turn out to be more solid than what we experienced in our humanity. Heaven is more sure than earth. The struggle is real, but God is even more real. God is greater than the struggle. And if you’re not sure about that, do what David Bowie suggested we do: look up there; he’s in heaven.