Before I get to the main point of this letter, I’ll just say it: no, 2016 is not killing celebrities. That question, currently bouncing around the Internet, is a poetic, albeit dramatic way of asking whether more celebrities are dying this year than in others. It’s been spurred on most recently by the deaths of Carrie Fisher and George Michael, among others.
Factually, 2016 is not actually killing more celebrities than normal. Now we can move on. I’m not mainly writing this letter to settle an Internet debate.
I’m writing to remind you why celebrity deaths matter. Here are a few observations:
Celebrities are human beings. It may not seem like that needed to be said, but our culture seems to preach that you’re more of a person if you’re famous. If you’ve touched the whole world by your work. If you’ve made a name for yourself. The reality, though, is that celebrities are no different than you and me. Isaiah 40:6b-8 says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Beauty, accolades, power, and wealth are ultimately finite; these are not values that add to or detract from a human being’s worth.
Celebrities are human beings. Yes, I said it again. There’s another reason that matters: celebrities, all of them, are made in the image of God. Celebrities matter because God made them to be reflectors of his glory. In their artistic expression, in their intelligence, in their personalities; celebrities have value and worth, all of them. There is dignity in being human, and there is sadness in the death of human beings. There is beauty in being a person, like the beauty of flowers and grass. So, we honor celebrities and we mourn their deaths; not as though they are more worthy of honor than another person, but we do honor them, and we pray for the healing and well-being of their families in the same way that we would pray for the healing and well-being of any family who lost their loved one.
Lastly, we should learn something when celebrities die. It’s easier than you might think to join the rest of America in immortalizing celebrities because of their beauty, accolades, power, and wealth. Instead, when celebrities die, we ought to consider our own finiteness once again. We ought to remember that our accomplishments don’t make us more human, just as their accomplishments don’t make them more human, and neither do accomplishments make any of us immortal. Indeed, for those of us who have trusted Christ, our identity is rooted in something far more amazing than any of that: the perfection of Jesus himself, who died on our behalf and rose again, conquering sin and Satan and giving us the victory, too. The psalmist, David, captures the wonder of this in Psalm 8, when he says to God, “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?”
The point of celebrity deaths is that people are small and God is big. It’s all the more amazing, then, that he is mindful of you and me. Now we pray his favor upon Carrie Fisher and George Michael’s family, too.