I hear a lot about sinners
Don’t think that I’ll be a saint
According to my Spotify Wrapped results, my most streamed song from 2020 is “Holy” by Justin Bieber, featuring Chance the Rapper. This is surprising for two reasons: 1) The song was just released in September, and 2) I’m not a Justin Bieber fan.
Perhaps I just enjoy how catchy it is. Perhaps I like it because it was written by Jon Bellion, one of my favorite artists (and my top artist on Spotify for the last four years). Perhaps the subject matter is what intrigues me. As someone who is interested in the intersections of faith and culture, “Holy” is quite the blend of the two. Grappling with religion, fame, and fleshly desires, Justin ponders his adoration for his wife and his faith in God through this song.
Though Justin’s very public faith journey has received a lot of questioning over the years, he’s been increasingly vocal and seemingly earnest about it recently. While promoting “Holy,” Justin hinted at a “new era,” which some have interpreted as a hint to an upcoming faith-based album.
But I might go down to the river
‘Cause the way that the sky opens up when we touch
Yeah, it’s makin’ me say
That being said, “Holy” does fall into the is-this-a-love-song-or-a-song-about-God trap. The song contains a few spiritual references such as baptism, communion, and of course holiness. Justin even mentions the Buddhist concept of nirvana—though he says he doesn’t believe in it, it appears as though he has found a similar experience for himself through other means.
However, these spiritual snippets are mostly used in a way that underscores Justin’s romantic love for his wife. The chorus—and essence of the song—is Justin saying that the way his wife holds him is a “holy” experience.
That the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me
Feels so holy, holy, holy, holy, holy
Runnin’ to the altar like a track star
Can’t wait another second
It’s a little eyebrow-raising (and I think the last two lines speak for themselves). But I also think there’s something more to think about here. Sure, it’s easy to scrutinize Justin and to point to the things he does that don’t appear very Christ-like. The fact that this song was released in the same year as his overly-sexualized song “Yummy” doesn’t seem right.
But I think it’s fair to point out that Justin’s fame magnifies his shortcomings and draws criticism from those who have their own private struggles. Is it right for any of us to judge him when, in reality, we don’t really know the deep desires of his heart—and when we all have done things of which we’re not proud? We can hide them to some extent. But Justin doesn’t have that luxury. We’ve seen his mugshot, we’ve heard him say questionable things during interviews, and we’ve learned about his drug use and patterns of abuse in relationships. And then here is “Holy.” I’m not saying this song grants him immediate forgiveness, but from an outside viewpoint, it looks like he is trying to do better.
The first step pleases the Father
Might be the hardest to take
I can’t help but commend Justin for taking this first step, if that’s indeed what it is. In no way does he portray a “holier than thou” mindset with this song, and as listeners, we shouldn’t feel that way either. As a Christian, I should be the first to celebrate with him, not discourage him. Even if he doesn’t have the is-this-a-love-song-or-a-song-about-God thing figured out yet.
I like to focus on the mention of “bride’s groom” in Chance the Rapper’s verse. It reminds me of the church’s identity as the bride of Christ. Isaiah 62:5 says, “and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
I know I ain’t leavin’ you like I know He ain’t leavin’ us
I know we believe in God and I know God believes in us
Yeah … something like that.
Kayleigh (Fongers) Van Wyk (’18) graduated with a degree in writing and resides in West Michigan. She works as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine while also making time for freelance writing. When she’s not behind a screen, she enjoys going for walks, eating ice cream, and buying more books than she’ll ever read.
Loved reading your analysis. I had to do a re-listen when I heard this song, confused by the common question of “is-this-a-love-song-or-a-song-about-God”. Chance’s declaration “I know we believe in God and I know God believes in us” particularly struck me and made me consider this was more than a love song.
I liked in the music video how they add a third option to the song topic: familial love. During the final chorus declaration of “the way you hold me” they show a father holding his two kids in a loving embrace. I think this expands the song from being a song about God disguised as a love song to a song about love in its many forms.
Thank you, Susan. I like your point about the music video. I started writing about the music video too but felt like my piece was getting too long, so I just focused on the song. I think the video does give the lyrics a new meaning.
It certainly is easy to take a “holier than thou” approach. It is easier to judge others than ourselves. We don’t like to take a closer look at ourselves, probably out of a fear of what we’ll find. So yes, it is better to give others (and ourselves) another chance.