Tuesday, November 12, 2019

From Kanye to Cartels

On November 4, 2019, nine U.S. citizens, six of them young children, were gunned down in northern Mexico in a vicious drug-cartel ambush. This senseless evil is but the latest act of violence resulting from a broken American society demanding drugs and a broken Mexican society providing them. It has turned much of Mexico into a lawless warzone in which more than 100,000 people have died in the last decade. Clearly, some important policy work needs to be done on both sides of the border. However, there are other, deeper answers that must be found.

One of the questions that I derived from this is, what does the conversion of Kanye West have to do with this attack? It’s an absurd question, but I do not ask it in order to be incendiary. I know really nothing about Kanye, but what I can certainly say is that he is in no way responsible for what happened. It is more a question of why I tied the two together, because that is what my mind immediately did.

The Kanye Opportunity

I will attempt to explain what rationale I have and see if any sense can be made of it. As I said, I know nothing about Kanye. However, his coming to Christ has certainly been unavoidable news. Like many other Christians, what little I do know was, at least, disconcerting. It has less to do with the things Kanye has done, so much as the way he has done them. His high-profile behavior, those few things I have noticed, have seemed erratic and impulsive. It is hard not to be cautious, if not downright suspicious, about the change in his life. That is not to question his salvation, but to wonder how long his fire will last and what negative impact it could have if it fades.

That’s my problem, though, and it is something I have to come to terms with. Anyone else sharing my attitude should have to reflect on it, too. This is something we should be excited about. Here is a person with a high public profile, someone who has experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and who is using his platform to fearlessly proclaim God’s grace to the world. Is that not a purely good thing?

I had this really forced on me while listening to, of all people, Glenn Beck. He floated the possibility that Kanye’s conversion could be a trigger for the Third Great Awakening. He meant it seriously, and it struck me like lightning that it had to be taken seriously. Some of us have been praying for revival for decades. Well, when last was the door to the culture cracked this wide open for the gospel?

Now, those who know me know that I will still suggest some caution. There is a serious risk of errors and abuses. But when has there not be error and abuse with a revival? When has there not been with anything human at all? It is the history of our existence. The possibility of things going wrong is not an excuse for us to give up on an opportunity to do what is right. It simply reminds us of our responsibility to point out the truth, putting people back on track when they begin to go off the rails.

And again, Kanye can be the emissary of this because Kanye is not the Savior. Jesus is, so only Jesus had to be perfect, and He was (and is). It ties into a verse that has been very much on my mind lately. 2 Cor. 4:7 says,

Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.

These words are a reminder that the power of the message of Christianity is not in the messengers. It is not in us being perfect, eloquent, beautiful, or famous. The power is in the message itself, that God loves us and gave His Son for us so that we can have a life better than we can possibly imagine (Eph. 3:14–21). That gift of salvation is the treasure of God, and it is made even more luminous when compared to those who carry it. Our lives, so cracked, dirty, and rough, show how great the grace of the Lord is when He transforms them.

The Example of Paul

No one knew that better than the man who wrote the words of 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion, Paul (known then as Saul) was an accomplice to the extra-judicial murder of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church (Acts 7:57–8:1). After that, he set out to destroy Christianity by terrorizing and imprisoning believers (Acts 8:3). He increased in his persecutions to the point of calling for the killings of more Christians and requesting permission from the chief priest to hunt them down wherever they could be found (Acts 9:1–2; Gal. 1:13–14).

Paul, reflecting on his past life much later, referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Partly that reflected his modesty, but there is truth to his self-incrimination. They hardly come worse than what he once was. But his encounter with the living Christ made him new and turned him into a messenger of salvation whose words and example are still impacting us 2000 years later. There is no better illustration of what God can do with those who once opposed Him.

Kanye West stands in that same tradition. Obviously, not to the same extent. He has never hunted down Christians in order to have them executed. But his former impact on society was certainly negative, it gave him a bad reputation, and like Paul, he has faced skepticism from other Christians. He does not have Paul’s story and he will not have Paul’s impact no matter what he does, but he can do a great deal of good. The good he does, above all, will be in drawing attention to the contrast between what he once made himself and what Christ has now made him.

The Source of Salvation

It was while these thoughts were still fresh in my mind that I heard the news of what had happened in Mexico. My immediate reaction was one of anger and a desire for justice. I do not regret that response, and in this case I agree with Donald Trump, who called the cartels monsters that need to be hunted down and destroyed. That is the truth. It does not have to be the last word, though.

The killers in the drug cartels are monsters. But so was Paul. So, in his own way, is Kanye. And so, in my own way, am I. That’s the point. It isn’t about us. It is about Christ. I want these murderers to face justice, which unfortunately they would not do if captured because Mexico does not have the death penalty. However, in regards to the higher, eternal court, nothing would please me better than for them to acknowledge their guilt and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. I know that He would give it to them, and that His grace could then shine brightly. I do not know what the likelihood of that is, but I can certainly desire it, and I should desire it.

More than that, it is the only answer to the drug crisis. In Mexico and in the U.S., the most commonly put forward solutions are social programs. We are told that if the government can just be entrusted with enough power, if it can provide for all basic wants, if it can make sure that everyone gets an education for practical skills, then all of society’s ills will go away.

That level of naivete is unworthy of a small child, let alone high government officials. Americans are not turning to drugs because they do not have enough. This is the richest society in the history of the world, and even the poorest person here is immeasurably richer than almost all of the people in almost all of the other countries of the world, none of whom are dealing with the epidemic we are. In the same vein, Mexicans are not selling drugs and killing their neighbors wholesale because they missed out on a vocational program.

The problem runs so much deeper. Culture is sending the message that money is the only thing that counts, and that the only person you are accountable to is yourself. It turns each of us into islands of greed. In such an isolated and empty existence, why not drown out the nothingness with mind-altering drugs? Why not take the easy way out to wealth that crime affords? They might be economic effects, but they are not economic causes. They are caused by a sickness of the soul that attempts to put self in the place of God.

Who has better exemplified that then Kanye West? He had everything the world had to offer: success, fame, wealth, and the hedonism that comes with them. In all of that, he learned that it amounted to nothing. But, rather than be consumed by the despair that comes with such a realization, he turned to Jesus. He found the meaning, the belonging, and the love that the life of self-interest and self-destruction cannot offer.

That is such a powerful lesson, and so many people are getting to see it now. We need to hope that it continues to be seen, and that it will inspire other similar transformations. People do not give up on their own selfish ambitions because of government largesse, but they do give up on them in gratitude to Christ. He alone has the power to change rappers and killers, bankers and cashiers, kingpins and presidents. I sincerely hope God uses Kanye as the spark that ignites us to see that again.

So, there is the link between Kanye’s conversion and the massacre in Mexico. It is not direct, but I think it is there. Redemption is possible and the world needs it. We must continue to pray for revival. We must also recognize the opportunity that exists for it to begin now, and pursue it. It’s time to talk while people are listening.

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