Featured Image Credit: Kanye West Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella
It is not uncommon for a celebrity in our culture to have a “road to Damascus experience” and place their faith in Jesus. Plenty of examples come to mind, but as of late, none is more prominent than Kanye West.
I do not keep up much with pop culture, Kanye West, or the Kardashians for that matter. A family member told me that Kanye had always been a Christian and mentioned his faith in other albums. Whether he is experiencing revival or conversion, it is obvious that something has happened in Kanye’s life.
I listened to his new album “Jesus is King” and was pleasantly surprised by what sounded like the sincerity and passion of a believer. I don’t know why this was a “pleasant surprise.” I suppose I viewed Kanye based on the words of his previous music, which by his own admission, would be anything but Christ-exalting.
Also, I watched some of his recent interviews in which he publicly proclaims his faith. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the words he was speaking were biblically faithful. I’m used to seeing high-profile religious people tout religious cliches and bend toward the cultural climate of the day. However, in Kanye’s words, I couldn’t help but hear a biblical orthodoxy.
Call me naive, but I believed (and do believe) that Kanye is sincere. Could I know with absolute certainty? I do not know anyone’s motives with absolute certainty. I can only judge one’s motives based on one’s words and actions. And of course with Kanye, my knowledge is limited to only what is publicized by himself and others.
However, I do know what God’s word says. I find in the story of the prodigal son a lesson for us all. And the lesson might not be the one you are familiar with. Usually when you hear the prodigal son, you think of the love of a father, and how no one is too far beyond redemption. However, I would submit to you that this is not the main point of the parable. The main point, I would say, is directly applicable to how we view the conversions of others.
I’m sure you have heard it, but the parable basically goes like this: A father had two sons. The youngest son comes to the father and asks for his inheritance in advance. Pause. At the time and place in which Jesus was telling the parable, this would have been like saying to your father, “You are no used to me alive, I wish you were dead, just give me your money.” As if the money were owed to the son.
The father obliges and gives the money to the son. The length that parents will go for their children’s happiness. The son takes the money and squanders it on loose living. Imagine him going to Las Vegas or something and blowing it on strippers, drugs, and gambling.
When the well has run dry, the son is left with nothing. What is he to do? He ends up selling himself as a hired hand to a farmer. Starving, he resorts to eating with the pigs. Face down in whatever pigs eat, he comes to his senses. He decides to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness.
Before he can even reach the house, his father runs out to greet him and welcomes him home in a loving embrace. Once again, we see the unconditional love of a parent for a child. Not only this, but the father orders the fatted-calf killed and plans a large dinner party for the son’s return.
What a story. What a great story about God’s love for sinners, right? There’s only one problem: I’ve left out the most important part.
Context is Key
A wiseman once said that a text without a context is just a pretext. The context of Jesus’ parable is this: Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day), were complaining that a righteous man like Jesus would hangout with notorious sinners all the day long. How could he defile himself in such a way?! The Pharisees were far too “holy” to do such things. Didn’t Jesus know any better?
This complaining of the Pharisees launched Jesus into a series of parables which included the prodigal son narrative. In each parable, something is lost that is found, and an invitation is given to rejoice in the finding of the thing lost. Keyword: rejoice.
At the end of the prodigal son parable we find the eldest son, who did not leave or squander his inheritance, grumbling at the return of his brother. He is indignant that his father would praise his younger brother after what he did. Not only that, but his father was hosting a party for this scoundrel, something he had never done for him despite his undying loyalty.
Does the elder son sound like anyone else? The Pharisees. Given the context in which Jesus was telling this parable, it becomes clear that the story is actually about the oldest brother more so than the youngest, or the father for that matter. The whole point was that the inheritance is the father’s to give, who was the oldest son to complain about the grace shown to the youngest son? The correct response was to rejoice, for what had been lost was now found.
Rejoicing with Kanye
It is not for us to decide if Kanye is sincere in his faith. Is there a chance that he has an ulterior motive? I guess, but that does not concern me. What concerns me is my own motives. I do not wish to be caught as a Pharisee as God rains out his love, mercy, and grace on sinners. I want to rejoice with those who publicly declare, “Jesus is King!”
I hope you will do the same.