Much of our human existence is characterized by an obsession with "now". And while instant gratification and present pleasure seem to constantly stoke our temporal fires, the truth is that none of us can escape asking one vitally important looming question: "What happens to me after I die?" Hip Hop's connection to the afterlife is well-documented and has included the predictable ("I wonder if heaven got ghetto" from Tupac), the thoughtful ("That's what Heaven look like" from Kendrick Lamar or "Live in the Sky" from T.I.) and yes, even the bizarre (…too many to even name here).
Jay Z tried his hand at an answer while promoting the song "Heaven" from his upcoming new album 'Magna Carta Holy Grail'. In a brief video, the Roc Nation mogul gives his own theological take on God's dwelling place. Jay says:
"No matter what religion you are, like, accept other people's idea. Okay, cause have you ever been to heaven? Have you ever seen it? Just from my ideas, heaven is in your daughter's laughter. Hell can be if your child was missing for three minutes; you're in three minutes of hell. It's just not my beliefs that you know, a just God would make you burn for eternity for free will that He gave."
While most of us will roll our eyes dismissively at this clip as yet another proof of Shawn Carter's perdition, this hit me a little differently. The fact is that for all of his godless content and lifestyle choices, it can never be diminished that Jay Z is a lost dude created in the image of God. Obviously, there were marketing strategies at play in timing the release of a video like this; but regardless of his intent, Jay sleeps at night just like the rest of us. And no human is immune to thinking about eternity. Briefly, it's interesting to hear certain words that we speak with no clear explanation for what those words actually mean. For example, what God is "just" if He allows no ultimate eternal consequence for evil earthly actions? And what if my beliefs counter yours, do you still "accept" them? But logical coherence aside, heaven still is a place Christians should be eager to talk about.
What we who believe don't know about heaven are its specifics, exact dimensions, and the full totality of the blessings that we will experience there. What we do know is that heaven is a place of unfettered, complete worship of our Creator. For the finite human mind, no matter how intelligent we may be, this is unimaginable bliss. Shai linne laces this point poignantly in his song "My Portion", where he directly quotes Psalms 73:25, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you." Don't get it twisted people, heaven is about Jesus. That's why He is the only way to get there. If you don't accept Christ on earth, why should you experience the blessings of His presence in heaven? Furthermore, the Bible tells us we ourselves will be changed beings as 1 John 3:2 explains "but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is." Our daughter's laugh and the beauty of a sunset are certainly beautiful images, but these are not intended to be the end of joy in themselves. They simply act as a picture or a conduit to point to something/Someone infinitely greater who brought all these good things into existence.
Even with Hov's pop-culture positivism, the inescapable fact for humanity is that heaven on earth ain't heaven. It's a woefully small picture of fullness of what we were created for. But for those who don't experience the grace and mercy of God, earth is the only form of heaven they'll see.
But can I suggest something that should actually encourage us in our growing CHH genre affiliation? In Acts 24 when Paul stood before Felix he spoke of "righteousness, temperance and the judgment to come" and Felix "trembled" at the mere introduction of those themes. Noted apologist Ravi Zacharias calls this the "point of disturbance" that hits all non-believers when they're exposed to the Gospel. Much has been made of the recent heightened religious themes and imagery Hip Hop culture with varying explanations. Have we considered that maybe the mainstream is "trembling"? Is there a possibility that the increased coverage of Gospel-centered Hip Hop has forced the mainstream to respond even stronger with its own contending explanations for the afterlife? When a popular artist hears "You gonna live forever whether you want to or not/Some of us gonna end up holy; some of us gonna end up hot", is it possible for their hearts to be stirred with a response? I believe that the exposure of music produced by artists with a Christian worldview has created a climate where these issues can no long simply go unnoticed or ignored in mainstream circles. They MUST be addressed. Is this completely verifiable? Of course not, I'll be the first to admit it. But I hope it's true. Because if that's the debate, the fight isn't even fair. We always win. And maybe, just maybe, it'll open the door for us to give some of these lost hip-hoppers the directions to where heaven really is.