Drugs: Problem and Solution?
Many rappers present an uncomplicated view of drugs as recreational substances that double as status symbols. Juice WRLD at times rapped about drugs as a way to have fun (Take a pill for the thrill, have a relapse)1 or as a solution to depression or anxiety (Codeine kills the drama and the trauma in my heart),2 but he also shared his own struggle with drug addiction and its harmful effects (I start takin’ the drugs and now the drugs take me).3 Juice WRLD sums up his relationship with drugs in two lines in his single “Wishing Well”:
If it wasn’t for the pills, I wouldn’t be here
But if I keep taking these pills, I won’t be here
For Juice WRLD, drugs were the problem and the solution: they helped him manage his depression and traumatic past, but also, as he predicted in “Wishing Well,” led to his premature death. Juice WRLD was unable to get away from the pleasure and comfort of drugs but also lived in constant fear of what his drug use was doing to him. His music reflects the pain and hopelessness of a person whose only comfort comes from the very thing that terrorizes him. Even worse, as he sings about in “Fast,” the privileges of riches and fame that were supposed to make life better didn’t help him at all:
I been living fast, fast, fast, fast
Feeling really bad, bad, bad, bad…
I go through so much, I’m 19-years-old
It’s been months since I felt at home
But it’s okay ’cause I’m rich
Psych, I’m still sad…4
Juice WRLD was fully aware that using drugs as a solution did not actually solve his problems. Nevertheless, drugs seemed to him to be the only way to manage the pain and stress in his life.
Hopelessness and Christianity
In a way, Juice WRLD’s struggle was the same as that of the Apostle Paul: “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). At times, we see Paul expressing great hope even in the worst circumstances (Acts 16:25-31), but at other times, he felt great despair (2 Corinthians 1:8). Feelings of hopelessness are familiar both to unbelievers and to those who have a relationship with God. Christian exemplars of faith from Paul to David have never been spared from struggling with hopelessness.
In Psalm 13, David expresses bluntly his feeling of hopelessness: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). The psalmist describes the tension between hope and hopelessness when he writes, “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). He writes that his own flesh and heart may fail and that he cannot in himself always feel the reality of hope, but in the very next line he affirms that the strength he needs is provided by God. However, it is often overlooked that struggling with hopelessness is a common Christian experience, and for that reason it can seem at times as if the only people addressing hopelessness are non-Christians. As Christians we should not suppress or ignore feelings of hopelessness, but instead, like the psalmist, we should acknowledge the reality of such feelings and acknowledge the hope we have in God.
Juice WRLD’s Popularity
Juice WRLD’s enduring popularity indicates that his music resonates with many. His complicated relationship with drugs is likely one reason so many people identify with his songs. People abuse drugs for a variety of reasons, but one reason among many is an urgent need to escape the feeling of hopelessness. Drug abuse is not uncommon, and even for Christians it would be naive to think that drug abuse is something that happens “out there in the world” and not in our own communities. It is a sad reality that even for some of those who know intellectually of the hope available in Christ, it sometimes feels as if there is a more tangible hope offered in illicit drug use.
Deeper than Juice WRLD’s struggle with drugs, many of his listeners likely resonate with what was behind his drug addiction: the desire to be seen and known for who he truly was, but the conflicting fear of opening up to others:
This is the part where I tell you I’m fine, but I’m lyin’
I just don’t want you to worry
This is the part where I take all my feelings and hide ’em
‘Cause I don’t want nobody to hurt me
Many of Juice WRLD’s listeners who did not share his struggle with drugs likely still identified with his inner struggle, his conflicting desires to connect with others and to protect himself from others. In short, people are looking for a solution to feelings of hopelessness, and although Juice WRLD offered no solutions, he at least acknowledged the reality of feeling hopeless.
Although his music is full of hedonistic themes, Juice WRLD honestly presents the conflict within himself. Instead of penning lyrics to make it appear as if he were living the good life, with drugs as just one way to enhance his euphoric experience, he shared the darkness within his soul, a darkness which (if the popularity of his music is any way to gauge) many identify with. Even for Christians, such darkness is not uncommon. People turn to musical artists like Juice WRLD because they can identify with the desperate grasping for hope. Christians often forget that many heroes of the faith—like Paul and David—often experienced the same sort of hopelessness, even in light of what they knew about God. Feeling hopeless should cause us to press into the hope offered in Christ; but because hopelessness is often whitewashed out of the Christian story, experiencing an absence of hope can throw believers into a downward spiral, causing them to feel like bad Christians for lacking hope, therefore leading to more hopelessness.
Juice WRLD’s tragic death emphasized the reality of his struggle, but he was not able to offer any solution for himself or any others looking for hope. Christianity, on the other hand, offers hope even in the midst of hopelessness. Even so, Christianity could learn something from Juice WRLD—his music attracts those who feel hopeless or trapped doing what they hate, because he was honest about experiencing those things himself. Perhaps Christianity would resonate more with those same people if, along with proclaiming the hope found in Christ, Christians were consistently and brutally honest about experiencing the lows as well. We should not have to learn what it means to be honest about struggling with hopelessness from a pop star. It should be from pastors, teachers, and parents that we learn to hold hopelessness and hope in tension together.
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