As I continue to listen to “Invisible,” I can’t help but reflect on the final lyric of the song from a theological point of view: “There is no them / There’s only us.” This is a sentiment that has repeatedly made its way into U2’s work over the last decade. Bono has used the phrase as a powerful conclusion to the live version of “One” on multiple occasions. (Watch Dublin, June 21, 2003). The lyric is also found in “Rise Above 1” from the Broadway musical written by Bono and The Edge, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. But I’m also drawn to Scripture when I hear the band use this lyric.
One of the founding doctrines of the fledgling first-century fellowship called “The Way” (the first known label for what later became Christianity), was the idea of community through unity, love and grace. The early church was formed primarily of Jews (the historic people of God with long codes of ethics and morality) and Gentiles (those who were not Jewish, most certainly including Hellenized Romans). Again and again in the New Testament we see early church leaders pleading for harmony between these two vastly different groups.
In Acts, a book that describes the formation of the first church, Peter told believers of his visit to the house of Cornelius, a Roman officer. “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10: 28, NLT). Then a few verses later, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” Peter’s own journey had led him from prejudice against the Gentiles to full acceptance of those he once considered his enemies.
John, another author in the New Testament, also urged unity in his three short letters to the church, with oft repeated instructions like:
- Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them (1 John 2:9-11, NIV).
- For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another (1 John 3:11, NIV).
- This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16, NIV).
- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7, NIV).
- Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11, NIV).
A quick read through 1, 2, and 3 John will reveal the author's strong argument for unity and love among the believers of the early church.
While not a direct quote of Scripture, the phrase “There is no them, there’s only us” also reminds me of Ephesians 2:14-15.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups (NLT).
In writing this passage, the Apostle Paul was critiquing the all too common problem of segregation in his society, primarily between the Jews and the Gentiles, two very disparate cultures. He urges his readers to put aside their notions of superiority and to see the other as human, as brothers and sisters in creation. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Look past the preconceived images you have of one another and see the true self. Journey with each other. This is a new era of peace, reconciliation and grace. We are all one new people.” “There’s no them, there’s only us,” could be the words of Paul as he spoke to the Ephesians and many other young churches of the first century. (For other similar instructions regarding Jew/Gentile unity, see Romans 3:22, Romans 10:12, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11.)
Bono has spoken about the divine connection we have with God and each other many times, but most notably at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 2, 2006.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house…. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives…. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war…. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
He often suggests that spirit and flesh are inextricably linked (“A body in a soul”—really, did he sing that?? Yep. That’s some great theology! Could be the subtitle for a whole course on theology of the human person.), and that moving passed the brokenness of relationships toward acceptance of and service to one another is a matter of justice and righteousness, validating the age of grace in which we now live.
As I reflect back over the last decade of U2, both in ways that they have been influenced and themselves been influencers, I find “Invisible” to be a confluence of experiences. Bono has said that this new song is “sort of a sneak preview” to the coming album (which, unfortunately, he reports still needs a couple months more work). If that’s the case, I think we can look forward to a very rich album both musically and lyrically. These guys appear to be entering an important existential stage of reflection and integrity. In an age of fleeting distractions, fragile identities and feeble priorities, it’s nice to hear them say “I finally found my real name” and mean it.
(Note: Part One of this post can be found here. "Invisible" was released only for 24 hours in conjunction with the Super Bowl as a partnership with Bank of America to raise funds for (RED), which provides AIDS relief for Africa. See AtU2.com for details or the Super Bowl commercial here. The song can currently be purchased on iTunes for $1.29)