A Theological Interpretation of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

In 1987, U2 released their critically-acclaimed album, The Joshua Tree. The second single from the record, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” went on to become one of the band’s biggest hits, ranking on numerous “best rock songs of all time” lists in the decades since it’s release.

What follows is a theological assessment of the song’s lyrics:

I have climbed the highest mountains

I have run through the fields

Only to be with you

Only to be with you

I have run, I have crawled

I have scaled these city walls

These city walls

Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Bono’s world-weariness bleeds through from the song’s opening lines. The song adopts the perspective of one who has seen much, from great heights (climbing highest mountains) to regrettable lows (crawling). And yet, there remains a certain dissatisfaction, a deep desire to pursue meaning. This is assumed in the title — that there IS, in fact, something to be looked for, some great purpose for us to discover. Perhaps this helps explain the song’s enduring popularity: it is an ode to universal human restlessness and the quest for meaning, albeit backed by gospel choir and shimmering guitar.

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her fingertips

It burned like fire

This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

These verses imply the pursuit of varied things — human love, physical healing, religious experience, even giving in to temptation — with the same end result. These have left the narrator feeling cold, empty, devoid of true life. In this regard, Bono channels the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the famous Jewish text that comes as close as anything to biblical existentialism. The Preacher who declares the message of Ecclesiastes systematically lists his many attempts to find “the good life” — through power, through sex, through wealth, through wisdom. In the end, his assessment is similar to Bono’s: these all leave us wanting a bit more.

I believe in the Kingdom Come

When all the colors will bleed into one

Bleed into one

But yes, I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains

Carried the cross of my shame

Of my shame

You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Bono confesses the great Christian hope: a Kingdom yet to come when all is blended together in perfect union. To leave no doubt as to the distinctly Christian nature of this hope, he adds the line about carrying the cross of shame. And yet, he continues, there is still a sense of incompletion in the present, a yawning awareness that even though history ends in glory for those who believe, our present days are often marked by numbing ordinariness. But the song ends on a buoyant note, for even though Bono remains actively searching, he does so as one fully convicted with hope.

C.S. Lewis once said that if we find within ourselves a desire for which no earthly satisfaction can be found, perhaps this is evidence that we were made for another place altogether. This seems to be the running reflection of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Or, to put it differently, in the famous words of Augustine centuries ago: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

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Voyager

Jackson’s music featured as part of the pre-worship loop at our church’s Wednesday PM gathering!

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First Day of School 2021-22

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Reactionary

One of the words which best describes our current culture is “reactionary.”

A car comes up quickly beside you in the adjacent lane. Do you find yourself speeding up to keep him / her from passing you? (Be honest.) Why do we do this? We were perfectly content maintaining our speed before we noticed this hothead; why does his / her behavior prompt us to react like this?

Following federal and local recommendations, school systems reluctantly announce the decision to require students to wear masks this school year. You know what comes next. Irate parents react by taking to social media to vent their anger. Perhaps you’ve seen video or heard of the “mob” mentality breaking out in town hall and school meetings across the country over all of this.

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death, a movement breaks out to defund the Minneapolis police department (and others across the country). This seems like yet another example of short-sighted reactionary behavior.

I’m afraid we’re often discipled into a reflexive, reactionary behavior by our reflexive, reactionary culture. But discipleship in the way of Jesus exposes us to a God who resists reactionary behavior. The Scriptures testify to the character of the one true God:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

Exodus 34:6

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.

Numbers 14:18

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Nehemiah 9:17

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Psalm 86:15

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

Psalm 103:8

Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Jonah 4:2

It seems fair to say that longsuffering is a key element of God’s character, given the number of references to Him as One who is “slow to anger.” It is no surprise, then, that God would desire that His people follow His example:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

James 1:19

May these words temper our more reactionary impulses. May we be discipled in the way of Jesus as we receive a new nature — to the point that our reactions would only and always be tempered by love.

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Psalm 8: What is Man?

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:1-4

David insists on this unassailable truth: YHWH’s name is majestic, esteemed throughout the earth. His royal status is conferred by the glory with which he has crowned creation. This heavenly host boasts of the royal name: YHWH, the LORD!

This prompts praise from David, but also humility. “When I behold your glory in creation,” David essentially says, “I wonder why you would so greatly honor humanity.” This is the moment of looking up to a star-filled sky only to feel simultaneously overwhelmed at the enormity of the cosmos while also feeling incredibly small within it. What is man that you are mindful of him? Indeed.

One of the elders at our church is Dr. Nobie Stone. Nobie earned a doctorate in astrophysics and he worked at NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center, serving as mission scientist for two Space Shuttle missions. More importantly, Nobie loves the Lord and His church. I’ve had the opportunity to hear Nobie pray many times over the years. Many times, he has lifted me up in prayer and I count him as an important influence in my life. Nobie has a particular phrase that he works in to almost every prayer and although I’ve never asked him about it, I have a feeling that his language has been influenced by both his NASA training but also texts like Psalm 8. In his prayers, Nobie always says something like:

We thank you, Lord, that you would even look down on this infinitesimal speck we call Earth. We thank you that even though we are so small and insignificant, you still love us anyway.

This is David’s confession as well. We are not lost amid the immensity of creation, forgotten by our Creator who has moved on to “bigger and better” projects. No, in spite of our frailties and our weaknesses, the Lord continues to look down upon us with benevolence. He has made us to bear His image, to exercise dominion (v6) because all things have been put under our feet.

Here we find the gospel truth: yes, on the cosmic scale, we are incredibly small; yet we are also treasured greatly. The Creator of the universe is mindful of YOU.

His name is majestic in all the earth.

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With Sprocket

Last week at the Trash Pandas game

July 21, 2021
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Psalm 7: Refuge

One of the great comforts in the Scriptures is the way the term “refuge” is applied to God. David cries out to God in seek of a place of safety and salvation.

O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me…

Psalm 7:1

David compares his foes to lions seeking to tear him apart. But he turns to God, seeing YHWH as a shield to save the upright in heart (v10). David is supremely confident not only in God’s ability to save, but moreover, in His willingness to deliver His people. Thus, in a moment of adversity, David pleas to God for refuge.

In The Bible for Everyone, Goldingay translates the word as “shelter.” To use another metaphor, David finds himself in a raging tempest, battered by the wind and the rain. But the Lord is safe harbor, shelter from the storm. David’s confidence in God is grounded in his awareness of God’s righteousness (a word that occurs throughout the Psalm). With the righteous God on his side, David can close with this word of praise:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Psalm 7:17

The Promised Land was to be divided into territories for each of the twelve tribes — with the exception of the Levites. The Levites were given a special task as priests: to tend to the things of God. Since they had no territory of their own, 48 cities were designated throughout the land of Israel for the Levites to inhabit. Of these 48 cities, six were designated as “cities of refuge” (Numbers 35). The cities of refuge were a provision for those in Israel to seek asylum. Per the law of Moses, murder was punishable by death; however, in the case of unintentional death, one could retreat to a city of refuge to find safety.

What a picture! A city of priests; a city of refugees. A city where those who tend to the things of God are neighbors with those in need of grace. The cities of refuge were for the accused and the homeless alike. Can you imagine the conversations that must have taken place in this city — how the people would speak of the grace of God in these cities of refuge? Can you imagine the hospitality of these residents — knowing as they did that this very city was an expression of the mercy of God? And can you imagine their degree of joy in knowing that everything they experienced was pure grace?

Such is the case for those who find refuge in the Lord.

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Hosanna and the Idolatry of Our Expectations

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once. This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Matthew 21:1-9

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He came riding on a young donkey colt. Only Matthew tells us about this colt’s mother. The disciples untie both animals and bring them to Jesus, but He rides on the younger of the two. And all of this is done to fulfill the words of the prophet — actually two prophets. Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of both Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11.

When Jesus appears, the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” But what does that mean?

The word Hosanna simply means “save us now” or “save us please.”

It’s found in Psalm 118.

Save us, we pray, O LORD!O LORD, we pray, give us success!Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

Psalm 118:25-26

The cry of “Hosanna” was associated with the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles. This feast celebrates the time when Israel was in the wilderness and God provided water for them out of the rock. Thus, a tradition developed many years later where the cry “Hosanna” was offered up as a prayer for rain. When these verses were read as part of the observance of this feast, the people would wave myrtle, willow, and palm branches. It seems that all of this was eventually associated with Passover as well, which is the reason for the crowd being in Jerusalem at this time anyway.

When the crowd shouts, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and waves the palm branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem, they are greeting Jesus as the Messiah. They are declaring that He is God’s anointed one from the house of David. They are announcing that He is a king.

But the real question is: What kind of Messiah will Jesus be?

And it seems that the people were NOT prepared for the kind of Messiah they received on that day.

What kind of Messiah is Jesus? The answer comes, in part, by looking at how Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem.

  • He comes riding on a young donkey, not a war horse or riding in a chariot.
  • The colt is so young that it seems it needs it’s mother to accompany it on this journey, probably because of the noisy crowd. Could you imagine a less imposing animal?
  • The prophecy itself that Matthew refers to says the Messiah comes in humility.
  • Rather than being adorned in regalia and battle paraphernalia like Caesar, Jesus rides into Jerusalem unarmed, dressed as an ordinary citizen.

You have to read the triumphal entry against the backdrop of Roman occupation to truly understand the Jewish expectation at that time. Reading this 2,000 years later, we will sometimes fault the Jews for expecting the Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom. Well, of course they expected that! And they had good biblical reason to expect that!

Passover was a holiday celebrating Jewish freedom from their oppressors. In the Exodus story, it was Egypt; in the NT times, it was Rome. Rome stood for everything that was wrong in the mind of the first century Jew. Their occupation of the holy land was an affront to Jewish nationalism, to Jewish identity. And they thought their best shot at deliverance was to wait for the day when God would send His Messiah into Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans and kick them out of their country.

But against all their expectations, Jesus rides a donkey — which ancient kings were known to do when they came in peace. For instance, in 1 Kings 1, David suggests that Solomon ride a donkey at his inauguration to symbolize a continuance of peace for the people.

Against all their expectations, Jesus doesn’t roll into Jerusalem like Arnold Schwarzenegger, dropping one liners and toting a machine gun.

He comes on a donkey.

Gentle.

Humble.

Peaceful.

Totally unexpected.


Over the course of that last week before His death, there is a shift that takes place in the hearts of the people — at least many of them. Jesus doesn’t do the things that many in the crowd expected him to do and He does plenty of other things that they never expected.

  • He goes to the Temple, but instead of driving out the Romans, He drives out the money changers.
  • Instead of cursing Caesar, Jesus curses a fig tree.
  • Instead of crushing the enemy, Jesus tells stories.
  • He says things like, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matt. 21:43)
  • He tells the people to pay their taxes to Caesar.
  • He tells people to love their neighbor.
  • He calls out the Pharisees, saying “For they preach, but do not practice. (Matt. 23:3)” and “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. (Matt. 23:5)
  • It sounds for all the world like Jesus is picking a fight with the religious leaders when He says, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matt. 23:15)
  • He predicts that the Temple will be destroyed.
  • He talks about judgment, but not in the way people wanted. He says things like, For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. They also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not minister to you?” Then he will answer them saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:42-26)
  • Then when a woman comes to anoint him with a flask of expensive ointment, the disciples respond indignantly, saying, “This could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” It sounds like they absorbed the point Jesus just made. But Jesus says, Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. You’ll always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. (Matt. 26:10)
  • Throughout the course of that week, Jesus continued to defy the expectations of those around Him, even His closest followers. The crowd shouted, “Save us, Son of David….but not that way. That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it. You’re not supposed to say and do those things!”

By the end of that week, those shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” had turned into, “Crucify Him!”


What is the message for us then?

Here it is, in the form of another question:

What do you do when you’re disappointed with God?

What do you do when the one you’ve been expecting doesn’t meet your expectations?

What do you do when your prayers aren’t answered the way you think they ought to be answered? You pray and you pray for something but your expectation isn’t met — even when you have good biblical reason for that expectation. What do you do?

What do you do when your life takes an unexpected turn? You find yourself in a hospital bed or standing at the grave of a loved one saying, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way?”

Even the best of us seem to struggle with this. John the Baptist, sitting in prison, sends his followers to Jesus with a simple question: Are you the Messiah or should we look for another? Not even John the Baptist was immune from this kind of disappointment.

We all have to contend with the idolatry of our own expectations.

What do we do when we’re disappointed with God? That’s one of the “litmus” test questions and I suppose we could come up with plenty of ways to answer it.

When we find ourselves dealing with this particular kind of disappointment, one thing we can do is to thank God for being greater than our expectations. There are some lessons you only learn through adversity, through hardship, through losing. If God were no greater than our expectations, He wouldn’t be God. If He was constantly seeking to meet our every expectation, He wouldn’t be God. And by allowing us to experience disappointment, God deconstructs the idol of our own expectation and reminds us of the eternal truth of all things: He is God and I am not. That is the lesson we learn in disappointment and it’s a vital one.

And right there, in the throes of disappointment, we can also do this: we can continue to sing, Hosanna! Save me please!

  • Which praise does God honor more? And which praise brings Him the most honor?
  • The cry of the zealous masses, hungry for a God to come meet all their demands?
  • Or the Hosanna, save us, please! that comes from the depths of disappointment?

So as God’s people, may we cry Hosanna again as a way of tearing down the idol of our own expectation.

Lord, save us please!

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In Bloom

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Psalm 6: Drenched Couches

Sorry for the long delay between Psalm posts. I’ve been a little discouraged but now I’m back in the groove of writing again.

Psalm 6 is a cry for healing amid the weight of grief and anguish. David begins this Psalm with a universal plea: that we might avoid the wrath of God.

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.

Psalm 6:1

Rather, David calls out for God to be gracious and the balance of the biblical story tells us this is a request God wants to honor. It is His desire that all should be saved by grace as they come to knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

But David makes his case before God in the starkest of terms. “My bones are troubled,” (v2) and “my soul is also greatly troubled,” (v3). The thought of bearing God’s anger or wrath is too much for David to bear, distraught as he is over his current condition.

And the low point is found in verses 6-7:

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief…

With graphic images, David describes his heartbroken state. This is a word for the grieving. From his tear-drenched bed, David groans. But this groan is directed heavenward, which is enough to make it a prayer.

And sometimes, that’s all we can offer when we are crippled by sorrow.

And I’m grateful to know that God says, “That’s enough.”

This is Good News.

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