It would probably have bothered Prince too. Why, though?
The clapback began twenty years before Super Bowl LII when Prince tried to preempt anyone from doing a virtual performance with him. The following exchange with Serge Simonart of Guitar World Magazine shows how emphatic Prince was about the subject:
“[Simonart speaking] With digital editing, it is now possible to create a situation where you could jam with any artist from the past. Would you ever consider doing something like that?” Prince answered, “Certainly not. That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon. Also, what they did with that Beatles song [“Free As a Bird”], manipulating John Lennon’s voice to have him singing from across the grave… that’ll never happen to me. To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control.”
Where’s Sandman When You Need Him?
Because of this, many Prince fans were indignant (best I can describe it in a religious magazine) with Justin Timberlake’s performance. Even if it were done well (a hologram of Apollo’s Sandman shudda jumped out and taken care of business), the sheet-flapping, hologramish, sing along, half-time stunt was disqualified from being a tribute.
Among many other ironies, Michael Harriott of The Root points out: “…a tribute is defined as ‘an act, statement or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect or admiration,’ so not respecting Prince Rogers Nelson’s wishes is the opposite of a tribute.”
However, there is something missing from most every conversation. Timberlake’s motive has been alternately dissected and defended by his critics and supporters, respectively. But who has addressed what Prince’s motive might have been? It’s harder to imagine using stronger language for expressing your disdain for something than to call it “demonic.”
Many religious people have denounced Prince as demonic for decades, given his extensive playlist of sexually saturated music and videos that frequently blended elements of the sacred and profane. Many don’t know know about his conservative genesis and revelation. Prince Rogers Nelson was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, frequently attending the Glendale Adventist Church in Minneapolis with his grandmother.
Much later, in 2001, he became a Jehovah’s Witness. What, if any, religious convictions did he operate from in the years between those two reference points?
Some see Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) as synonymous and wonder what the distinction is. While there is some common ground, of which one area might explain his “demonic” hologram statement, let’s quickly look at a few contrasts.
- SDAs believe Jesus is an eternal, self-existent, co-equal part of the Godhead—along with the Father and Holy Spirit.
- JWs see Jesus as a created being.
- SDAs believe the Holy Spirit is a co-equal part of the Godhead, whereas JWs say the Spirit is merely an active force (devoid of personality) emanating from God.
- SDAs believe in honoring God through resting from secular labor and gathering for worship on the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday).
- JWs see this as irrelevant.
- SDAs abstain from alcohol as one means of taking care of our body temples, whereas JWs may freely imbibe.
- JWs don’t believe in having blood transfusions, but SDAs believe this is in keeping with biblical teaching and helps many people serve the Lord with better quality of life and longevity.
The Dead in Biblical Teaching
The area of common ground that likely led Prince to declare jamming with artists from the past as demonic is in the teaching of what happens when you die. The Bible indicates that when people die, they are really dead and their thoughts die with them.
For example, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (KJV) says: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”
Many others in the Christian world believe that you don’t really die when you die. Instead, some part of you immediately flies up to heaven or descends straight to hell to be eternally tormented. However, Psalm 115:17 (KJV) says that, “The dead praise not the Lord.” If you die and go to heaven, wouldn’t you praise the Lord?
One of Jesus’ closest followers taught that “the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. . . For David did not ascend to heaven” (Acts 2:29, 34, NIV).
Since people don’t immediately die and go to heaven or the hot place, does that mean there is no life after death? No. There will be a resurrection when Jesus returns: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isaiah 26:19, NIV).
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV).
Why Some Call Foul on the Fantasy
Because we believe that when people die, they are truly dead, we take seriously the commands not to try to communicate with the dead. “There shall not be found among you any one that … useth divination…or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD” (Deut. 18:10-12, KJV).
Necromancy is the practice of allegedly communicating with the dead. Familiar spirits are what the Bible calls evil, deceptive spirits (fallen angels) that imitate the appearance and mannerisms of dead people.
God forbids seeking them out for three basic reasons:
1. He wants us to seek Him for answers and comfort. “Should not a people seek their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living” (Isaiah 8:19, NIV)?
2. He doesn’t want us to open ourselves up to the influence of evil spirits. As stated already, since the deceased have no consciousness and are incapable of communicating, then it is nothing but spiritual imposters that visit those seeking the dead.
3. He wants us to have faith in the resurrection, when we will be reunited face to face with our loved ones who died in Christ.
These biblical principles are probably the reason why Prince didn’t want to be associated with anything that was akin to necromancy. Even though a hologram is an apparition created by technical forces, rather than spiritual forces, it apparently had too close a resemblance to the biblical prohibition for him to consent.
Is There a Word From the Lord?
The biblical story of King Saul, found in 1 Samuel and 1 Kings, comes to mind. Saul had a close friend and counselor, the prophet Samuel. Although Saul appreciated that Samuel was the one who anointed him to be the king, he didn’t always follow the prophet’s guidance. One too many instances of disobeying God’s commands, given through Samuel, resulted in Saul losing God’s blessing.
Samuel lamented as he informed Saul of God’s verdict in 1 Samuel 15:23 (KJV): “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”
This utterance wasn’t prophetic just because it predicted that God had already made up his mind who the next king would be. Saul’s rebellious attitude actually led him to seek the assistance from a witch. A witch whom he had driven out of his kingdom while he was still following his conscience and God’s commands.
Now, at the end of his rope, Saul sought a word from the Lord. However, God was silent. Saul had resisted God’s voice for so long that God decided not to waste his breath anymore. The king felt like a dead man walking, with one last hope. Necromancy—he sought advice from his dead friend, Samuel. Saul had disrespected Samuel by disregarding his counsel while alive. Saul now ironically “honors” Samuel by seeking his advice after he’s dead.
It was a demonic tribute answered by a familiar spirit, pretending to be Samuel. The exchange was far from a comforting experience. Samuel’s imposter foretold Saul’s demise. Saul lost his life after seeking the dead on behalf of the living.
Prince wasn’t a prophet. Justin isn’t a king. The sheet glowing with Prince’s likeness wasn’t a literal demon, whether or not he would have viewed it as demonic. Halftime performances and Super Bowls aren’t fraught with eternal consequences. This column isn’t really about Prince, JT, Saul, or Samuel. It’s about how we honor other people and, more importantly, how we honor God.
When it comes to showing respect, honor, tribute, worship, and service to God—it must be on His terms. Anything else is the opposite of those things, in spite of what we say our intentions are. Yes, He knows our hearts. He also judges our deeds.