Sometimes, when you really, really love something, you start to see (or hear) it everywhere. So when I was walking through the store one morning with my mama, I first thought that the unmistakable sound of Bono coming from the speakers in the ceiling was a case of apophenia.
I don’t know how things are in other places, but around here, a lot of stores will play “elevator music” over the speakers as you shop, and it’s a well-known fact that they pretty much play the same songs in a loop, over and over and over. So when I first heard U2 in a place where U2 had never been played before, I wondered if I was losing my mind. However, as soon as my beloved Moogie turned to look at me with a slightly perplexed look on her face, I knew I wasn’t crazy.
“Is that—” I started to say.
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” finished my resident ’80s guru.
After a couple of happy squeals from me, we both jumped into singing it as we walked to the cash register and stood in line…and I may or may not have also kept singing it while we were paying the nice cashier, who actually managed to not stare at me like I was crazy.
Then we walked out to the car and told my daddy about this amazing discovery.
Now, this may come as a shock to you (because it shocked me), but there are actually people out there—real people who were alive back when The Joshua Tree was first released—who do not know who Bono is.
Weird, right?! Apparently, my daddy was “working in the ’80s” and therefore cannot name a single song that has been on the radio since 1979. Fortunately, my brother and I have solved this problem by playing U2 songs all day, every day. You’re welcome, Daddy!
And now it’s back to what you actually care about: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For!
It’s easy to tell that this one was inspired by the Psalms because, as in most Hebrew poetry, many of the lines magnify or emphasize the meaning of the previous line. The first verse also describes trials that sound like something King David could have faced: climbing mountains, running through fields, and scaling city walls. All activities that were accessible to the ancient Hebrews. But, of course, all of those images can easily be used to symbolize the struggles all of us face today.
Let’s face it, faith isn’t easy. In U2: Into The Heart, Bono is quoted as saying, “‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is an anthem of doubt more than faith.”
When you’re exploring your faith, you don’t always get that mountaintop experience. Reaching the mountaintop is hard work, and there’s no guarantee as to how long you’ll be there before you realize you have to start climbing again. You’re not always certain; you never have all the answers; and it’s frustrating to try to explain what you believe to other people when you’re still learning yourself. As Bono says in Every Breaking Wave, “It’s hard to listen while you preach.” (Although more on that will come, of course, when we get around to that particular song.) Faith is a constant series of struggles that you know will lead you to a reward, but you have no idea how or where or when. You just know that it’s there, and that’s why you keep looking.
A journey similar to faith is a relationship. This is something that Bono explores a lot in his songs. Faith is a series of struggles, and so is a relationship. Faith is a relationship with God, and relationships with other people are built on faith in each other. Faith guides us to and through relationships, and often we find that our faith is the strongest when we have others to support us. This idea comes out strongly in the second verse.
Kissing honey lips, speaking with the tongue of angels, holding hands with devils… These lines are a mixture of earthly experiences and heavenly ones.
Earthly works will not get us to heaven, yet heaven calls us to do good works here on Earth. God transcends the everyday, mundane experiences we have in this life, yet God created this life and put us in it, and He makes the everyday experiences beautiful. Humans need both heaven and Earth in their lives.
But we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. No matter how “fulfilled” we are, no matter how many earthly challenges we overcome, and no matter how close to heaven we feel, we have not yet reached “the undiscovered country.” And we can’t reach it on our own.
In fact, we’re not supposed to reach it on our own. It’s just not good for us. Think about it: once you find what you’re looking for, what else is left? Once you’ve discovered all that there is, what else is new to explore? Doubt is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, doubt just pushes you to find new things, or new aspects of things you already considered, that you hadn’t uncovered before. Challenges and journeys push us into new growth, and they can make faith, relationships, and personal resolve stronger. Captain Kirk once said, “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way.” This spirit of continually searching for answers is a possible interpretation of the refrain (if you can call it that) repeated through the song: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Yet even though our personal growth depends on exploration, human works will never be enough, and therefore the trials of faith in the first verse and the celebrations of love and experience in the second verse are still not enough to reveal the reward at the end of the journey. It’s like Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Faith and relationships depend on the other person. Without the loved one, there is no happiness, and without God, there is no paradise. Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. (Did you see what I did there?)
Seriously, though. Nothing in this life will truly fulfill us, simply because we’re not finished yet. And that, in my opinion, is where verse #3 kicks in.
“I believe in the kingdom come, and all the others will bleed into one, bleed into one… But yes, I’m still running.”
That last part—and this entire last verse, really—is my favorite part of the song because it echoes such truth.
I know where I’m going, but I’m still running. Running to get there, and sometimes running in the wrong direction. Humans get lost; humans rebel; humans find their way and lose it again. But we keep running. I also love that part because it sounds like a conversation. It sounds like your old friend came up to you after you haven’t seen each other in a while and asks how you’re doing. “Yes, I’m still running.” Maybe that old friend is God, or maybe it’s a different loved one. The answer fits for both. That’s part of what I think makes U2 so great: they often portray God as a friend. (But that’s just my opinion.)
This is where we get to the part where Bono starts changing lyrics. Thanks to one of Brook’s Bono-isms columns, I found out about the coda for this song. Which I did not know about previously because, well, I’ve never been to a U2 concert, and YouTube is a vast database that I’m still looking through (even though I still haven’t found what I—aw, forget it, you’ve heard that one too many times).
Anyway. Thanks to the good folks here at U2 Radio, I now know that sometimes the second “of my shame” is changed to “you took the blame.” I love that change; it adds more emphasis to the imagery than the repetition does. When that change is paired with a “quieter” style like the Rose Bowl version, the difference is even more powerful; the song changes from being a classic gospel song to being almost a repentance. It has even more of that intimate conversation feel.
Listening to the Rose Bowl version was the first time I had heard the coda (and now I’m seriously hoping that I listened to the right coda. Sometimes being a new fan is not all it’s cracked up to be). I couldn’t understand all of what I heard on the video, but I’m reasonably certain that I heard this: “We’ll shine like stars in the summer night, we’ll shine like stars over winter skies, one heart, one hope, one love.”
What I get from this is that we are capable, even if we are still searching and journeying, of shining wherever God puts us. We may be on the mountaintop or in the fields, we may be warm in the night or cold as a stone, but we have been given all we need to make it through. As for the last half of the coda, that sounds to me like two things: one is that we are all connected. We’re all people, living in the same world, going through the same struggles, every single day.
The other is Ephesians 4:5-6.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
See? One heart, one hope, one love.