Holy Week is long gone, but Judas stays in the spotlight—at least in pop music. The second single from Lady Gaga’s new album Born This Way, “Judas,” didn’t stay on top of the charts very long, but it has received plenty of air time and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It’s also caused controversy—as Gaga, a masterful self-promoter, doubtless intended—because it uses Christian imagery in provocative ways to tell its story.
In Love With Judas
Singing in the persona of a woman attracted to a man who mistreats her, Gaga laments, “I’m just a holy fool, oh baby he’s so cruel, but still I’m in love with Judas . . . Jesus is my virtue,” but “Judas is the demon I cling to.” The video shows Gaga as a Mary Magdalene-like woman traveling with Jesus and his disciples, who are depicted as an urban biker gang. Gaga’s Magdalene rides behind Jesus on his bike and, when not dancing suggestively in skimpy outfits, walks submissively beside Jesus; however, she casts many longing glances at Judas. In one key scene Gaga seems ready to shoot Judas with a pistol; instead of bullets, however, the gun “fires” lipstick, which Gaga applies to Judas’ lips and face. In another scene, Gaga wipes both Jesus’ and Judas’ feet with her hair. The video ends as Gaga is stoned to death by a mob. Apparently her fascination with Judas has led to her death.
What does it mean? In interviews Gaga explains, “I have a lot of things that have haunted me from my past . . . Judas represents . . . something that is bad for me that I can’t escape.” Gaga presents the song as an exploration of how difficult resisting darkness can be, both darkness within ourselves and darkness that encroaches from without. Gaga’s solution is “honoring your darkness in order to bring yourself into the light.”
Right Diagnosis, Wrong Remedy
Some Christians are angered by “Judas.” Others simply dismiss it. But Gaga states that the song and video are meant “more to celebrate faith than it is to challenge it.” If so, Christians can ask the question: Faith in what? In whom?
Gaga is right about one thing: We’re all, to some extent, “in love with Judas.” For some, unfortunately, that love often manifests as in Gaga’s song. Too many women stay in unhealthy, dangerous relationships with men who hurt and betray them. They are victims of mental and physical abuse and must be cared for, not blamed or scorned.
More broadly, however, all of us find darkness compelling, for we are all victims of the power of sin. The apostle Paul describes our predicament: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19). The reformer Martin Luther taught that not even Christians are immune from this inner struggle between darkness and light, but are simul justus et peccator—sinners simultaneously put right with God.
Luther, then, would disagree with Gaga’s ideas about “honoring our darkness.” He would instead echo Paul’s joyful thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ, who saves us from sin. In Jesus, God “has rescued us from the power of darkness” (Colossians 1:13), forgiving us and freeing us for godly service. We don’t have power to “bring ourselves into the light.” Instead we are empowered to live a new and abundant life because Jesus has “called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We may be “in love with Judas,” but we can grow out of that affection because Jesus loves us more.