Theological Round-up: “No Line on the Horizon”
In the future, I’d love to write an interpretive essay, analyzing and exploring the themes in U2’s theologically rich, spiritually nourishing new record, No Line on the Horizon; as with all U2 albums, there are some interesting ideas at play, but this one is particularly complete and complex, and I haven’t had enough time to take it all in just yet. I’ve come across some folks who have, though, and wanted to highlight a few of the more meaningful meditations on the album that I’ve come across.
Christianity Today, of course, has a very insightful and succint take on what the album’s all about, thanks to my pal Andy Whitman:
This is an album all about time: the ravages of the inexorable march of hours and days, chronos and kairos, calendar time and clock time vs. those moments that are out of time, that sustain us, those in which we encounter something of the Divine. It’s a theme explored explicitly in “Moment of Surrender” and “Unknown Caller,” and obliquely in later tracks such as the anthemic rocker “Breathe” and the atmospheric closer, “Cedars of Lebanon.”
This is an album made by middle-aged men still playing a kid’s game, well aware of the ridiculousness of the trappings (see the humorous, self-deprecating lines in the funk-driven “Standup Comedy”), and searching for and sometimes finding reasons to go on. As such, these are songs that could have never been written by Bono Vox, the naïve, idealistic youth of early albums. And as such, these are songs that could only have been written by Bono, the aging, iconic rock star in love with Jesus and himself in equal measure, and bothered by the incongruity. They are great spiritual and human songs.
Cathleen Falsani reflects on the album’s sense of spiritual journey– of pilgrimage:
Without a line on the horizon, we may feel like there is no limit to how far we can go. But it also makes the seas difficult to navigate.
That is, in many ways, where we find ourselves today. It’s as infinitely terrifying as it is exciting. Where do we go from here and how do we find our way?
U2’s 12th studio album, No Line on the Horizon, gives a few great answers, if you have the ears to hear and the eyes to see them. (I hope you do.)
Brian Draper contributes a remarkable arrangement of lyrics from the album, showing its sophisticated narrative arc.
Mark Meynell holds the album up to the light of Scripture, and offers extended reflections on several tracks.
And Steven Harmon waxes eschatological:
Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon Jr. helpfully defined eschatology much more broadly: it’s “about what lasts; it is also about what comes last, and about the history that leads from the one to the other.”
In other words, eschatology has to do with God’s goals for all creation, from creation to consummation and everything in between, as well as our participation in what God is doing to realize these goals in a world in which they are manifestly not yet realized.
U2’s music has long occupied the tension between the present experience of what lasts — “all that you can’t leave behind” — and the present absence of its full realization — “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
The basic message of No Line is that earth is not yet heaven, and therefore the album summons us to “Get On Your Boots” and work toward the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven — when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will at last be no line on the horizon.
Moving in that direction requires the triumph “of vision over visibility” (“Moment of Surrender”), an echo of an earlier formulation of the same insight: that the things that last and that come at the last constitute “a place that has to be believed to be seen” (“Walk On” from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind). It also requires an inner transformation wrought by a receptive hearing of the voice of God (“Unknown Caller”) and a faithful reception of the love of God which requires that one both “stand up” for it and “sit down” to receive it (“Stand Up Comedy”).