Kanye's Struggle for Righteousness
- David Fairchild
- Nov 3, 2006
- Series: Music
By JAN M. OLSEN
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - Rap star Kanye West was named Best Hip Hop artist but still came off as a sore loser at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Kanye apparently was so disappointed at not winning for Best Video that he crashed the stage Thursday in
In a tirade riddled with expletives, Kanye said he should have won the prize for his video “Touch The Sky,” because it “cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons.”
“If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility,” Kanye said.
It’s as old as the first tenants of the Garden who, when the charge of sin was leveled against them, at once shifted the blame for their actions on one another, God, and the serpent. While at the same time they attempted to cover themselves by making the first fruit of the loom undies like a hippie at a hempfest by using fig leaves to hide their shame. This was more than just a newfound embarrassment of nakedness before one another, it was an attempt to cover themselves from the holy eyes of God.
From Adam on there resides in each of us a struggle to get and maintain our own righteousness. This struggle is an unbelieving struggle which seeks something other than Jesus for our acceptability. It is a struggle to make ourselves beautiful and worthy. It is a struggle to stave the ever encroaching feeling that our lives are vapor lived in vain. It wells up from a heart of unbelief and therefore will cause us to continually fail and force us to keep struggling. There is no rest in this struggle because it is born from the sin of pride which assumes we can gain a righteousness of our own. Kanye is no different than any of us who continue to believe a false gospel of manufactured righteousness.
Why would a successful and intelligent rapper like Kanye embarrass himself before a live crowd of thousands and a broadcast audience of millions? The answer is multi-faceted; idolatry, unbelief, and a struggle to keep his reputation and appearance. Now, at this point in the article some of you might be tempted to “amen” what I’m saying without examining the motives of your own heart. Have you asked the question “why do I sin?” Most of us give the Sunday school response that we miss the mark because we’re sinners. This is certainly true theologically, but awfully cheap. Of course we sin because we’re sinners, but pulling out our GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card doesn’t help us when it comes to deep repentance and lasting change. To simply agree that you are a sinner is much like a person who when caught doing something they know they shouldn’t blurts out “I’m not perfect!” Let me rephrase the question- “why specifically in this instance are you sinning in the way that you are?” or “what is motivating you to do what you are doing?” This is a more profound question because it requires that we think through how we’ve come to sin and the motivation behind it. What is the sin under the sin? What is the thing we are hoping for and looking towards for our beauty, meaning, value, purpose, peace, joy, and satisfaction? The idols we unearth in the process of tracing the chain of our sin to source of our sin can be quite painful. But without such excavation, we are left as white washed tombs filled with inward death.
Back to Kanye- the question I raised was essentially the question we must all raise- “why do I do what I do?” The answer is simple, but not simplistic- we are struggling for our righteousness. The rap game is one of reputation and appearance. It is an entire industry dominated by chest thumping with the militant demand of respect from your peers. This is not just a passing interest for those who consider themselves legit, it is the very lifeblood of their endeavors. Their lyrics, videos, stage performance, and expected demeanor is one of hyper-sensitivity to disrespect and a hyper-ego which flexes its muscles to the masses to demonstrate they are…well…righteous.
This struggle for righteousness which is expressed in the fight for reputation is a brutal master which will never allow us to rest. We wish we had it, and once it is acquired we will fight to the death to keep it (think of 2Pac or the Notorius B.I.G.). This drive pushes us, beats us, wears us down, and gives us no rest. It is a slavery that promises our emancipation as it slips its shackles around every limb. I find it ironic that most within the rap industry are adamant that they be free to do what they want, act how they choose, and live in any way they see fit while they rap about their freedoms that going platinum affords them. In their quest for acceptability they wear the chains of their own slavery around their neck. Gold, silver, and platinum laced in ice from ear to wrist, becomes the trophies of their struggle for righteousness, and forces young men and women to bow down and serve these gods of bling like a golden calf.
This is why the struggle for reputation is often linked to the struggle for appearance. Our struggle to appear righteous before others, ourselves, and God is the cause for much of our own dishonesty as we lie to ourselves to pacify a battled conscience that wants freedom from our guilt and shame. Why do we seek after the things we do? Why do we want so badly to succeed? Why would Kanye commit a major PR blunder like this? There is something at work within him that can not stand the thought of not being recognized as the best at what he does. His false messiah has promised salvation to him if he’ll only serve the master of success. To appear righteous is to validate all of the work demanded by your idol. Without the payoff of public approval, we are not just disappointed when we don’t receive what we’re hoping for, we’re literally undone at the core. It isn’t that success, reputation and appearance are important, they’re everything to those who struggle for righteousness. Why are we so sensitive to criticism? Why are we so overwhelmed by failure? Why do we have to show-off verbally or physically? Because our hope is to be saved by the righteousness we attain to satisfy the god we worship.
This isn’t a jab at rap or hip hop. Those of you that know me well, know that I grew up on rap as the only music I would listen to. I was in 3 break-dancing crews and donned the name D-Flex to those who dared battle me on the linoleum (oh, how odd that sounds today). I thoroughly enjoy rap music and always will. This is more of a critique of the ideology that pervades the industry and the demonstration of that ideology through actions like Kanye’s at the awards show.
So, what do we do?
Well, since this struggle is not reserved for Kanye alone, but for all of humanity, including Christians who theologically agree that salvation comes by grace alone, but in practice deny it. In other words; Kanye’s struggle is my struggle.
Here is the hope for those of us who are zealous but often do not live in line with the knowledge we claim:
I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:2-4
Did you hear that? Christ is the end of all of this. He is the end of the struggle for righteousness since He alone fulfilled the law for us. Joy Davidman puts it like this:
“The only way to get rid of sin is to admit it, for without honest, repentance, forgiveness and grace are impossible. The Christian does not go around all the time feeling guilty. For him sin is a burden he can lay down for he can admit it, repent and be forgiven. It is the unfortunate creature who denies the existence of sin in general and his own in particular who must go on carrying it. The way to freedom consists in honest confession and repentance that can open our hearts to the Comforter.”
Why is it so very difficult to acknowledge we are sinners and need a Savior? Because to do so means we must let go of our own struggle for righteousness which is the very thing promising our salvation. How can we be clothed in the righteous robes of Christ when we are still wearing our fig leaves we have sown?
Our struggle for righteousness is over if we have trusted in Christ and His perfect righteousness. He has become our reputation, our beauty, and our lasting glory. He alone can grant the promise of salvation to a people who labor and are heavy laden under the burden of performing and maintaining the façade of righteousness. He alone is rest for our souls. He alone allowed his reputation to be destroyed, his outward beauty to be crushed so that you and I no longer need to build a life on sand which rests upon our performance.
Kanye is not the only one who has suffered a lack of recognition for the incredible work he’s performed. Yet instead of lashing out in anger and defense, He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer, but did not open his mouth (Acts 8:32). Jesus absorbed the ridicule and shame of those crying out “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35). Mankind created by Christ Himself refused to acknowledge the gracious work of the only true Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. The difference is that Jesus, for the Joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, so that you an I who were once exiles can now come in and find our acceptability in the One who was exiled on our behalf.
“Lay your deadly doing down, down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in him, in him alone, gloriously complete.”
Here is an interesting article that Mark Driscoll wrote on past comments Kanye has made regarding his place in history.