Sitting across from Nashville rapper Mogli the Iceburg at Knoxville’s famous Kbrew, we met together for coffee and conversation. Specifically, my aim was to interview him about his faith and personal relationship with God. He was visiting town already for the weekend to visit his family and shoot a new music video, so the timing was perfect.

When I pitched the idea of this interview, what I said was that I wanted more than anything to get to know the real Mogli. I wanted to get to know Jacob Horenburg, the one who struggles, hurts, and aches like the rest of us. I have a personal conviction that a person is most vulnerable in their dealings with God, so they can be intimately known when learning more about their relationship with God. I’ve seen even in my own life that my prayer, Scripture reading, and worship are private expressions of who I truly am.

Conducting my own research, I read past interviews of Mogli and found that nobody was asking these kinds of deep questions. To me, they are the most important questions to ask any artist proclaiming Christ, so I decided that I would be the one to ask them.

Much of my own Christian experience has been in churches that describe knowing God as a fuzzy, emotional relationship and my first question for Mogli was whether he subscribed to that notion. I was curious whether his walk with the LORD conformed to the majority of Christian culture and how his faith journey compared with mine, seeking answers to my own questions of why I was not experiencing God like other people were.

Mogli the Iceburg

Photo by @andre.shoots at Light Work Event at A3C hosted by Rapzilla.com.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that he did not fake a boisterous, grandeur presentation about the presence of God in his life. Rather, he was honest with me and told me bluntly that he has a difficult time accepting the idea of a relationship with God because of his intellectually skeptical nature. Faith involves diving into the unknown without all the answers, yet he simultaneously feels a deep need to figure everything out, providing a sense of security for him. “One of the hardest things for me is for it to be more of a relationship and less of philosophy because I have an intense desire to understand things and square them all away. Because of that, any time I can tie apologetics, philosophy, and consistent thought into a worldview, that’s kind of like my safe space.”

Similarly, prayer becomes a difficult practice for Mogli because he does not relate to God in the same way he relates to other people.

“It’s hard for me because I feel like some people talk about their relationship with God like a (human) relationship, but it’s hard for me to describe it as a relationship with someone else. I don’t hear the audible voice of God.”

As an intellectual, he must sort through his various emotions, testing to see whether they are from God or from his own heart. It is certainly a challenge for him, especially since feelings do not necessarily have coherent logic behind them, causing him to feel a sense of insecurity.

I have a lot of feelings, but sometimes I have a hard time isolating whether those are MY feelings, MY heart’s intentions, or MY desires apart from what’s coming from God.

Discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit has been one of the most painful challenges in my own walk with the LORD and it comforted me to know that I was not alone. Many artists are placed on pedestals and given expectations and standards they can never meet because they are human like the rest of us, yet these confessions from Mogli helped me to see him equally to any other person.

As we discussed his difficulty accepting the idea of a relationship with God, he began sharing a critical part of his testimony that eventually became a bedrock experience in his faith.

Mogli the Iceburg

Photo by Barry E. Daly at A3C.

“Right before I went to college, I had an experience where somebody prophesied over me that was very specific and, without going into too many details, this guy was able to communicate explicitly, verbatim, word-for-word private thoughts that I had that day with God. Along with some other things, that was a big validation for me that not only does God exist, but this western, monotheistic Judeo-Christian version of God is actually true. That was a moment for me that served as a bedrock for me and I was still so skeptical about things, but I had this encounter that I couldn’t explain.”

For someone who relies upon logical reasoning and argumentation, this experience went beyond those, germinating seeds of faith despite not having all of the answers.

The specific prophecy made over him eventually led Mogli to seek out Christianity and discover intellectual solutions to questions he had, especially through the study of apologetics.

“From there, that really prompted me to get into reading C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias and, you name it. If there’s a famous apologist I’ve probably read some of their books.”

At this point in the interview, both of us were starting to realize how Mogli’s faith journey had relational aspects when he explained that apologetics “became one of the love languages in my relationship with God.” The wisdom he has gained over the years as a spiritual struggler has taught him that not every person shares the same experiences as himself and allows differences among Christians to exist, which I thought was wonderful. He knows that he is uniquely designed by the Creator in certain ways and extends the same grace to others.

“Everybody is different and I think a lot of people are relationally focused. There are people where they just need somebody that is Christian in their lives to love them and I’m not one of those people. I needed evidence.”

I wanted to know more about where his profession of faith was when the prophecy was made over him, so my next question was whether he was saved when this event occurred. Mogli responded that he had always believed in God, partly due to him being raised in the church, but was extremely skeptical of his Christian roots. Questions such as who was Jesus, the divinity of Jesus, the reliability of Scripture, and the Islamic perspective caused him to search out which version of God he believed in. Ultimately, as he researched world religions, he came to the place where he became attached to monotheistic religions.

“I was in this weird spot where I thought that monotheistic religions (in particular) have something going on for them.”

Although Mogli had intellectual barriers to belief in Christianity, two major factors from growing up also contributed to his rejection of Jesus: the death of his mother and youthful rebelliousness. He recognizes how these led him on the path of skepticism and sees that many others have walked down the same path.

“After my mom died when I was eleven, right before I turned twelve, I think that made me kind of bitter in some ways. Looking back, most of it was rebelliousness and most of it was me wanting Christianity to not be true. I was wanting to falsify it. I had resentment for what God had done in my life, and I really did kind of want to live without consequences. So the idea that anything was skeptical towards the Gospel was pseudo-liberating to me in a way because I didn’t have to answer for anything. I think that was something that, if you pick at a lot of people, is the underlying crux of a lot of agnosticism.”

Reflecting on my own life, I could see similar motivations in myself to reject Christ in order to live without consequences, pursuing hedonistic pleasure without pain, as well as my friends. We were the prodigal son, living selfish, perverse lifestyles for our own benefit and turning away from the love of the Father.

Experiencing the power of the Gospel in my own life, viewing it as the centerpiece of Christianity, I desired to pick at Mogli’s brain for his thoughts on the subject. Not surprisingly, he had a lot to say about what the message of Christ’s sacrifice meant to him.

“What the Gospel ultimately means to me at this point has been understanding my brokenness, but also human brokenness as in the problem of evil and original sin. I think for me to understand any of the gospel, I had to understand how we’re broken, why we’re broken, and why we’re in need of a savior. Starting from there is the most powerful part of my belief and my worldview.”

Mogli the Iceburg

He told me that he is generally a pessimistic person in regard to human nature, so naturally, it was easier for him to accept the sinful state of mankind. Recognizing that true goodness does exist within people, he made sure to supply his statements of mankind’s sinfulness by saying that any righteous part of himself comes from God.

Connecting the doctrine of total depravity to philosophy classes he took in college, Mogli continued the conversation about the Gospel by walking me through the common misconception that people are morally good and have every right to access Heaven, highlighting his need for Jesus.

“In my philosophy classes in college, we talked about egocentrism, the idea that everything that we do is selfishly-motivated. And when I think about that, it falls in line a lot with my faith worldview. Our definition of good is precluded by things not being selfishly motivated. So if I do something nice for you because there is going to be a reward for me, that’s not a great virtue. That’s looking out for myself. Maybe I’m just doing good things because, subconsciously, I don’t want to sin against God because I want to live in Paradise or I don’t want to go to Hell. Maybe I’m doing this nice thing for this girl because I want her to like me, or I’m doing something nice for my parents so they will accept me. Even if that’s your argument for getting into heaven on merit, I’m screwed; terribly, hopelessly screwed, and I need a savior.”

As we finished talking about the faith components of his life, Mogli completed his thoughts regarding the Gospel by talking about the love of God and, despite his earlier admissions of difficulty in a relationship with God, how he experiences relational elements through this love.

“I can’t comprehend being infinite, I can’t comprehend pure omniscience, I can’t comprehend pure omnipotence, I can’t comprehend something that is one-hundred-percent good,” he said. “The fact that God isn’t casting me away when He is totally justified to do so, that is where I feel the love of God. It’s weird, I’m more of a philosophical believer in that sense, but I think it wraps it’s way around to relationships. It’s the personal love that I feel and the personal love that I want to return and I don’t feel that type of personal love with other philosophical constructs that I adhere to.”

He continued,He continued, “Philosophically, I’m a very firm believer in supply and demand; these are concrete laws of economics. I don’t have a desire to love or honor supply and demand. I don’t have a desire to love or honor natural selection. So as I’m talking this is an epiphany that there is a relationship component to it.”

It was an epiphany for me too, my friend. I can’t help but smile as I reminisce on our interview in that coffee shop. As I mentioned earlier, one is most vulnerable in their dealings with God and I felt that vulnerability radiate from Mogli the Iceburg while he was sharing with me. Not only vulnerability but also tremendous courage to freely admit that he does not have everything together despite being placed on a platform where judgment may be incurred. As one who proclaims Christ, it is evident that he has a deep love for the LORD and a flourishing relationship with God. I learned a lot about the real Jacob Horenburg and it makes me glad to know that he and I share similar experiences in our faith.

I hope that you will find encouragement in reading Mogli’s story and that God will use it to bless you as did for me.