The second in a series of theological reflections drawn from the lyrics of Kanye West.
In 21st century Western society, spiritual struggle is largely regarded as the stuff of cartoons, horror movies and religious nutters. However, those who have witnessed great evil, such as those who participated in the Rwandan genocide and those who sought to prevent it, aren’t always so dismissive.
Here’s Kanye reflecting on his own, more personal, spiritual battle:
God show me the way because the devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)
The only thing that that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now
And I don’t think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus walks with me)
I want to talk to God but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long
-Jesus Walks, The College Dropout (2004)
Kanye is aware of his spiritual opponent, the being that the Apostle Peter describes as a ‘roaring lion’ bent on destruction (1 Peter 5:8). Kanye is aware of his own waning spiritual energy and his complete inability to atone for his own sin. He wants to approach God but instead he stands at a distance; alienated and afraid.
The word of Jesus to Kanye, and all who stand at a distance weighed down by tiredness, guilt and fear, is an invitation to come near:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
And here is the call of the Apostle James:
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Jesus himself was tempted by the devil but resisted (Matthew 4) which means he can empathise with our struggles (Hebrews 4:15). More importantly, he not only issued an open verbal invitation to draw near but physically opened his arms as he was nailed to a cross and punished in the place of all humanity before rising again in victory over the devil and his power (Colossians 2:13-15).
The word of Jesus to Kanye and to all the world is: come near to me and I will give you rest.
The second in a series of theological reflections drawn from The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) by Scottish philosopher and economist, Adam Smith.
What are humans naturally repulsed by? Among other things, Adam Smith says, it is the powerless:
The fortunate and the proud wonder at the insolence of human wretchedness, that it should dare to present itself before them, and with the loathsome aspect of its misery presume to disturb the serenity of their happiness.
The poor, the oppressed and the marginalised have nothing to offer us. They interrupt and intrude on our comfortable little worlds. The behaviour of many Western nations toward refugees seems to reflect this attitude, as do our own individual actions as we encounter the smelly, the distressed and the lost.
And to what are we naturally attracted? To what end do we strive? Smith says we seek the influence of power.
The man of rank and distinction, on the contrary, is observed by all the world. Everybody is eager to look at him, and to conceive, at least by sympathy, that joy and exultation with which his circumstances naturally inspire him. His actions are the actions of the public care. Scarce a word, scarce a gesture, can fall from him that is altogether neglected. In a great assembly he is the person upon whom all direct their eyes…
Celebrity culture might have changed form but it is nothing new. We want to be near the person of power and we want to be a person of power. Even, Smith says, despite the great cost. Attaining such a position requires wearying toil driven by anxiety. There is a loss of liberty and a forfeiting of leisure, ease and ‘careless security’.
These are the kinds of attitudes seen among many who first encountered or followed Jesus. The religious leaders are dismayed at his willingness to associate with ‘sinners’ and outcasts such as tax collectors and prostitutes (Mark 2:15-16). The crowd following Jesus rebuked a blind beggar who called out for healing as if Jesus ought not be bothered by him (Mark 10:46-48). The disciples rebuked children for coming to Jesus since they were regarded as unimportant (Mark 10:13-16). They are astonished that an impressive, rich, young ruler cannot be part of the ‘in’ crowd (Mark 10:17-26). They came to Jesus requesting the best places in heaven and became angry at each other as they jockeyed for power (Mark 10:35-37). Peter even rebuked Jesus for foretelling his own death, as if such a thing is beneath him (Mark 8:31-32).
This selfish, destructive jostling for power is at the heart of what the Bible calls sin – the rejection of worshiping God in favour of worshiping ourselves and calling others to do the same. This is the exact opposite of the life and teaching of Jesus. He embraced wretched humanity with compassion and he lovingly died a wretched death on their behalf in order to atone for sin. He did not shrink from misery and he did not grasp for greatness. Here he is setting his disciples straight:
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
SEE ALSO: Contemptible Christ