Dear Kendrick Lamar,
I read your message on DJ Booth about how you express God and felt compelled to write an open letter of encouragement to you and others who are digesting it AND your new album DAMN.
I applaud the heart behind your music. You told DJ Booth, “I feel it’s my calling to share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD. The balance. Knowing the power in what he can build, and also what he can destroy. At any given moment.”
Amen. You sound like Jesus when he told his disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Your desire to share the fear of God will make no sense to readers who have never studied how the Bible describes hell. Jesus called hell an “eternal,” “fiery furnace” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “where the worms that eat them do not die” (Matthew 13:42, 25:41,46, Mark 9:48). Even worse, the Apostle Paul said hell is eternal separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
It would make more sense if more people shared your burden, which is why I also applaud your desire to provide “balance” to the God-conversation. I resonated with your story about a church which did not.
“I went to a local church some time ago,” you said, “and it appalled me that the same program was in practice. A program that I seen as a kid the few times I was in service. Praise, dance. Worship. (Which is beautiful.) Pastor spewing the idea of someone’s season is approaching. The idea of hope. So on and so forth. As a child, I always felt this Sermon had an emptiness about it. Kinda one sided, in what I felt in my heart.”
More churchgoers need this discernment.
No one needs a pastor lying to them that their season is approaching. No one needs a pastor lying to them that they will acquire health and wealth in this lifetime with the right amount of faith. We need pastors who remind us of the hope Jesus Christ offers to all who believe and also the consequence of unbelief — without which we are unable to fully appreciate this hope.
Thank you, Kendrick, for swimming against the culture; the culture in some churches of telling only one side of the story, and the culture in some hip hop of hedonism.
I encourage you to continue swimming, and I’ll leverage the book of the Bible you quoted in your message to DJ Booth to do so. For readers who have not seen your message, here is a larger excerpt which I will dialogue with below.
Our God is a loving God. Yes. He’s a merciful God. Yes. But he’s even more so a God of DISCIPLE. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline. Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.
Hence the concept “The wages of sin is Death.” It shall be corrected. As a community, we was taught to pray for our mishaps, and he’ll forgive you. Yes, this is true. But he will also reprimand us as well. As a child, I can’t recall hearing this in service. Maybe leaders of the church knew it will run off churchgoers? No one wants to hear about karma from the decisions they make. It’s a hard truth. We want to hear about hope, salvation, and redemption. Though his son died for our sins, our free will to make whatever choice we want, still allows him to judge us.
Yes, people’s “free will” to make whatever choice they want creates a need for fear of God. This is because, in our free will, we all chose to rebel against God. We all lived led by our desires instead of the desires of the all-wise Creator of the universe.
In the book you quoted, Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote the following in chapter three:
“‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.’ ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Romans 3:10-18).
As a consequence, all deserve the judgement you feel burdened to warn your listeners about because, indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But Paul finishes his thought in Romans 6 by writing, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is reiteration of a truth Paul introduces earlier in the letter of Romans.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
Our sins are not forgiven solely when we pray for forgiveness, nor are our sins forgiven when we obey a list of commandments. Our sins are forgiven when we, by faith, believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave, then repent for those sins and live for him (1 Peter 2:24).
I imagine you nodding your head right now because you affirmed these truths on the intro of your album good kid, m.A.A.d city:
“Lord God, I come to you a sinner, and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I will ask that Jesus will come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. I receive Jesus to take control of my life that I may live for Him from this day forth. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood. In Jesus’s name, amen.”
This identity as a believer in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior compels you to obedience.
Believers are not compelled to obedience by a fear of God’s punishment. Believers are first and foremost compelled by God’s love; compelled by the cross, where Christ Jesus suffered the punishment they deserved (Philippians 3:12).
This changes how we fear God. A hip-hop artist named Shai Linne explained this on an album titled The Fear of God by Eshon Burgundy.
“When it comes to fearing God, you shouldn’t think fear in the same way a person fears snakes or heights or the mafia,” Linne said. “Nah, the idea is more what you think as you’re staring out into the vastness of the ocean or standing on the precipice of the Grand Canyon. To fear the Lord is to stand in awe before the reality of God.”
This is illustrated by the writer of Hebrews when he declares “God is a consuming fire,” and in response to this truth, the writer commands his readers to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Paul instructed Philippian believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” not due to God’s wrath in this instance, but instead because, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Believers are to fear and tremble, not because they are unsure of their salvation and fear hell, but instead because God is in them — in them! The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in believers! It’s this Spirit who allows them to live for God even though they, as you said, are “still of flesh.”
I agree, “Every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline,” like you told DJ Booth.
God will judge all following death (Hebrews 9:27-28). Nonbelievers will be judged unrighteous and disciplined with eternal damnation. Believers will be judged righteous because they placed their faith not in their own works, but instead in the works of Christ; placed their faith in the fact that Christ corrected their sin by enduring the discipline they deserved on the cross.
I need to … humbly … disagree when you said, “Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that’s close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected.”
I agree all suffering is a consequence of sin but not that specific sins explain specific earthly suffering. Remember when Jesus’s disciples saw a man born blind and asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3). The story of Joseph in Genesis and the entire book of Job communicate this idea; that not all suffering results from specific sin.
Some does. Paul told the Corinthian church that some of its members became sick and others died because they disrespected God in how they participated in communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
But we don’t always know. God leaves the reason for most suffering a mystery. However, believers are able to rest in the promises of a God with a flawless track record; a God who promises to use their temporary suffering for their eternal good; a God who promises that once they are saved, they are always saved (Romans 8:28-29).
So, if our obedience cannot justify us, should we continue in disobedience?
“By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).
In your pursuit of holiness, I encourage you to do good works not out of fear of God’s judgement, but instead out of fear of who God is — a God of discipline, obedience and jealousy, who works in those who trust Jesus’s good works to justify them.
On track No. 12 of your album, “FEAR.”, your cousin Carl Duckworth gave you a mountain of motivation to pursue holiness with a pair of voicemails that began and ended the song.
I know you been having a lot on your mind lately, and I know you feel like, you know, people ain’t been praying for you. But you have to understand this, man, that we are a cursed people. Deuteronomy 28:28 says, ‘The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.’ See, family, that’s why you feel like you feel like you got a chip on your shoulder. Until you finally get the memo, you will always feel that way…”
Verse two says, ‘You only have I know of all the families of the Earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.’ So until we come back to these commandments, until you come back to these commandments, we’re gonna feel this way, we’re gonna be under this curse. Because He said He’s gonna punish us, the so-called blacks, Hispanics and Native American Indians are the true children of Israel. We are the Israelites, according to the Bible. The children of Israel. He’s gonna punish us for our iniquities, for our disobedience, because we chose to follow other gods that aren’t his Son, so the Lord, they God, chasten thee.
So just like you chasten your own son, He’s gonna chastise you because he loves you. So that’s why we get chastised, that’s why we’re in the position we’re in. Until we come back to these laws, statutes and commandments and do what the Lord said, these curses are gonna be upon us. We’re gonna be at a lower state in this life that we live here in today, in the United States of America. I love you, son, and I pray for you. God bless you, shalom.
Carl’s love for you makes me wish he was my cousin. I’m sorry you feel like nobody has been praying for you. Since hearing your album, I have been, and I’ll encourage others to do the same.
I agree with your cousin Carl that “we are a cursed people”; we, being the human race (Genesis 3). I also need to humbly disagree, though, that the passage quoted in his second voicemail, Amos 3, means that “so-called blacks, Hispanics and Native American Indians are the true children of Israel.”
As far as I know, you have never publicly denied being a Christian, so I give you the benefit of the doubt. However, this is not Christian teaching. This is Black Hebrew Israelite teaching and a misunderstanding of God’s covenants with his chosen people.
God made several covenants with people in the Old Testament. One of those covenants was the Mosaic Covenant. In this covenant with Moses, God gave Israel the famed 10 Commandments, as well as over 600 additional commandments to follow.
Based on the Mosaic Covenant, whether or not God blessed Israel was based on whether or not they obeyed God’s laws. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 reads, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse — the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”
This is why sometimes Israel succeeded, like when the walls of Jericho fell down, and why sometimes Israel failed, like when they spent hundreds of years enslaved. But God knew Israel would be unable to keep all of his commandments, so he promised to make a new covenant with them.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
God kept this promise. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
“This cup” is a symbol of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:15, Isaiah 51:17, Revelation 14:9-10). Jesus prayed God would spare him from “this cup” in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified (Matthew 26:39).
By drinking the cup of God’s wrath on the cross, Jesus ushered in a New Covenant with his blood and made the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
Ephesians 2:8-9 explains how sinners are saved in this New Covenant: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Romans 3:28-30 explains which sinners this New Covenant is with. God made the Old Covenant with the Israelites. What about everyone else; the Gentiles?
“We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”
This means the true children of Israel in the Bible are Christians.
This does NOT mean you lack “royalty inside your DNA,” as you your song “DNA.” declares. You are crafted in the image of God; a product of God’s incomprehensible love, created with inherent dignity and value (Genesis 1:27). In fact, there are unique ways blacks, Hispanics and Native American Indians can identify with Jesus.
Jesus was a Galilean Jew born in the Middle East. Odds are that he looked closer to black than white. But not only that: His experience was more black than white. Duke Divinity School associate professor Dr. Christina Cleveland explained this and its significance in Christianity Today.
As a Jew, Jesus was an ethnic minority in the Roman Empire. Jews were marginalized by Romans, Greeks, and other non-Jewish groups in many imperial cities. As an infant, Jesus was a target of ruler-sanctioned infanticide, fled to Egypt as a refugee, and faced Roman tax collectors’ exploitation. Throughout his life, he knew the pain of being a member of an ethnic group whose culture, religion, and experiences were marginalized by those in power.
Since Jesus belonged to an ethnic minority, we are compelled to re-evaluate who Jesus was and with whom he identified as he fulfilled his mission. When people who were on the outskirts gathered, Jesus was among them — not only because he ministered to them but because he was one of them. As an ethnic minority, Jesus didn’t simply care about people who were victims of Rome-sanctioned violence, he was a victim of Rome-sanctioned violence. Jesus didn’t simply care about refugees, Jesus was a refugee. Jesus didn’t simply care about the poor, he was poor. To Jesus, ministry meant knowing from the inside the pain of society’s most marginalized.
This is why professing Christians’ use of a white Christ to oppress minorities was literally the opposite of Christ-like. Jesus abandoned the privilege of his throne in heaven to come down to earth as a fully God yet fully human agent of reconciliation — to reconcile sinners with a sinless God and the oppressed with their oppressors (Philippians 2:6-8).
I see no evidence that the oppression of minorities in America is a direct result of minorities’ sin. Carl said, “Until we come back to these laws, statutes and commandments and do what the Lord said, these curses are gonna be upon us. We’re gonna be at a lower state in this life that we live here in today, in the United States of America.”
Minorities are at a lower state in America because of the sin of racism and indifference to racism, not as a direct consequence of their sin. The Old Covenant is obsolete. The cause-and-effect nature of God blessing or cursing his people based on whether or not they obey his laws is obsolete. And God’s use of a single nation to model as his chosen people is obsolete.
Since the beginning, God’s true chosen people have always been those who believed in him by faith (Hebrews 11). The same remains today, except ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, he has called his chosen people to “make disciples of all nations” until he descends again (Matthew 28:19). “Nations” is translated in the original Greek from the word ethnos, which can also be translated as “races.”
Heaven will be the most diverse place of all-time. I’m blessed right now to attend a multi-ethnic church in Chicago called Legacy Christian Fellowship, so I’ve experienced just a taste of the beauty that is vastly different people praising, living for and finding satisfaction in the same God whose infinite value transcends all cultural bounds. If I, a white guy, attended an all-white church, I would never have been able to have a conversation with a black pastor of mine last week named Lamar Simms about the Black Hebrew Israelites.
I knew Lamar had studied BHI theology because he’s presenting a workshop about it at a conference called Legacy in July. Lamar said he had immersed himself in the study of their beliefs because most of his wife’s family is BHI.
Lamar said the confusing thing about their theology is that it affirms everything about Christianity but then says, “There’s more.” And that “more” affirms the DNA of minorities in a way which the broader American church has egregiously failed to do so since the beginning. I pray that the similarity of BHI to Christianity is the cause for its inclusion on your latest album.
I encourage you to continue studying the Bible. Books on this subject matter which friends have recommended include Free At Last? by Carl Ellis, Urban Apologetics by Christopher Brooks and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden.
Continue championing the fear of God. Continue championing all attributes of God’s character. Finally, and most of all, be compelled in all you do by the cross of Jesus Christ, for by it believers are not only saved, but also made more like him until he returns.
Grace and peace.