Singer Amy Winehouse, 27, was found dead in her London home on Saturday from as-yet undetermined causes. The winner of five Grammy Awards for her jazz-infused and Motown-influenced style, her life was marked by success as a chanteuse and songwriter when she was hardly out of her teens. Her sultry voice was well suited to profane songs on love, loss and addiction that echoed her tumultuous personal life, pocked by struggles with drugs and alcohol. Poor health and erratic personal habits caused her to cancel performances; several times she walked off stage in the middle of songs, and even collapsed during performances.
One song, “Rehab,” showcased her smoky voice and rebellious attitude, saying:
“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, ‘No, no, no’
Yes, I’ve been black but when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab, I won’t go, go, go”
The song is emblematic of many of her works, which focused on drugs, broken relationships, and drinking. Through the years the paparazzi made her struggles public as she checked into treatment facilities and was enabled in her self-destructive behaviors by her codependent husband.
When I consider the life of a gifted person who so clearly is hurting, I wonder what Jesus would say to her in person. I think of the Gospel stories like in John 4, when Jesus speaks with a despised woman who has been married five times and is now living with a man who is not her husband. He treats her as worthy of his attention, speaking truth without condescending, revealing himself as the source of life.
I think of the story from John 8, when Jesus defends another woman caught in the act of adultery. He tells her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” With these words, he speaks truth into her brokenness, offering forgiveness and unconditional love along with a directive that would set her free.
I think of the story from Mark 5 and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac. In this story Jesus meets a man who lives among the uncleanness of the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones, too frenzied to be held by chains. The man violently opposes him, yet the Savior’s grace applies even to this adversary. Jesus’ power is adequate to the challenge of brute spiritual force.
So what would Jesus say and do in Amy Winehouse’s life? His word and his work always go together; he speaks a word of healing and grace, and his actions bring about what he commands. Jesus would reach out to her, taking the initiative to show his love. He would not condone her hurtful behavior, yet neither would he condemn. More than simply empathizing with her, he would speak and act redemptively and powerfully in order to save. He came to spend time with people like Amy and with all the damaged, the down-and-out, the up-and-out, the powerful, the poor, and the brokenhearted.
Maybe the question should be for us—what would he have us do to speak his word and to show his love, to demonstrate his kingdom in the lives of people like Amy before it is too late?
Randy Working is a minister-member of the Presbytery of Western Reserve, living in Chesterland, Ohio.