You can say this about Miley Cyrus. At least she was being herself on Sunday night.
That’s what the world tells us to do, right? Just be yourself. Sunday night, at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Miley took advantage of her platform to show anyone who didn’t already know that she was no longer Hannah Montana.
To say that her performance was sexually suggestive would be inaccurate. It was pretty much just sex. There was nothing suggestive about it.
And, for some reason, we’re all shocked. Even those who don’t have a problem with that sort of thing had a problem with Miley just being Miley.
But what did we expect? Did we really expect her to keep being Hannah Montana? It never works that way. Remember when Britney Spears was a seemingly innocent Disney girl? Remember when Justin Bieber was just another kid who had a good voice and a mom that knew how to promote her son? And in both cases we were told that this kid was different. This kid was well-grounded. Now, several marriages and meltdowns later, nobody knows what has happened to Britney. And Justin has a pet monkey and is in the middle of a very public and very ugly meltdown. It never ends well for child stars. Miley Cyrus is just one more example.
That’s part of why what happened Sunday night should not shock us. But there’s another reason why we shouldn’t be surprised. This kind of thing would happen to anyone, including you and me, who gets huge amounts of success and popularity at an early age and grows up in a generation whose motto is, Just be yourself. Nothing helps you to be yourself like truckloads of money and fame at an early age. But the thing is that the you you really are, the yourself that everyone keeps telling you to be, usually isn’t very pretty. It’s called original sin.
What should really surprise us, or more specifically, what should surprise Christians, is our response to Miley Cyrus.
I saw the first few seconds of Miley’s performance before I turned away and started making jokes about her. When I came back, I saw the crowd treating Kanye West like a god and I instantly thought of ten other rappers who are better than he is. Later, I saw the heroes of the civil rights movement degraded as their struggle was equated to that of the gay marriage lobby. Through it all, I was bothered but not for the right reasons.
I longed for the days when music was better. When people didn’t lip sync. When there were guitar solos. When the weirdest thing that happened at the VMAs was the guy from Rage Against the Machine climbing up on a stack of speakers. But never once was my spirit provoked because Miley, Kanye and a significant number of their fans were likely on a path to a very real hell.
2000 years ago Paul was in Athens with nothing to do. His plans were to just wait for Silas and Timothy to join him (Acts 17:15). But as he looked around and “saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16) he spoke up. Not because he hadn’t met his evangelism quota for the month. Not because he felt guilty. And not because there’s no such thing as hell and we all end up in the same spiritual amusement park in the end anyway. He spoke because his spirit was provoked. The lostness all around him didn’t sit well with his spirit. He didn’t like the idea of people going to hell.
Paul was a follower of Christ. He had been rescued from a life devoted to empty religion. Now he had a new identity in Christ. Speaking up in love just seemed natural. In Acts 17, Paul was just being Paul.
And on Sunday night, Miley was just being Miley. She doesn’t know Jesus. She’s famous. She wants to sell records. She has a platform. What did you expect? None of that makes what she did right. It just helps to explain why she did it. And why, without Christ, you and I would have done something similar in her situation.
Sunday night’s VMAs had a lot in common with what Paul saw in Athens. The MTV awards show was a worship service “To the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). An unknown god who, in this case, has something to do with sex.
Hopefully the commonalities won’t end there. Hopefully those of us who follow Jesus will have the same response to this idolatry that Paul had all of those years ago.
A provoked spirit.
Provoked because of all of the people who worship a 20-year-old girl instead of the Living God.
Provoked because that 20-year-old girl has settled for the temporary pleasures of fame instead of the eternal joy of knowing Jesus.
Provoked because, no matter how outrageous they may be, Miley, Kanye and Gaga are real people. They have real souls. And they will one day have to give an account before their Creator.
Provoked because so many people, both the famous idolaters as well as the more normal ones that would never dream of twerking with men dressed as stuffed animals, are rejecting God’s command to repent despite quickly moving towards his righteous judgment (Acts 17:30-31).
When Miley did her thing on Sunday night, she was just being Miley. I think that the true nature of her heart was on display.
But when Christians sit by, apathetic to the idolatry that surrounds us and unprovoked in our spirits, we are the ones who are putting on the show. If we are in Christ, it is in our nature to be provoked by lostness. And it is only when our provoked spirit leads us to share the good news that we are being who we really are.