Is the Devil in the Music
Ezekiel 28: 12-19
Music affects me tremendously. I remember after I broke up with my college boyfriend, I couldn’t listen to music at all. Because every song reminded me of him. Every song made me cry. So I just sat in silence for a year. Yesterday, I was running errands all day with a friend and she was listening to hip hop on the radio. By the time we returned home in the evening she looked over at me and asked,
“It’s the music,” I replied. “All the violence. All of the misogyny. It’s literally making me sick.”
Now hear me out, I like Drake, and Lil’ Wayne, and Nicki Minaj, and Meek Mill (… well Meek Mill not so much) as much as the next millennial. But when you listen to the music for 6, 8, 12 hours it does something to you. Do you know what I mean?
There are many Christians who will respond that there is a reason for that. They say that hip hop makes me feel this way because hip hop is demonic. There is a popular argument that suggests that the Devil uses music to turn people away from God and there is Biblical evidence to prove it.
My Bible study class and I had a debate one the subject and they insisted that I present our arguments to you today and so here I am. Now I confess, I have played the role of the devil’s advocate (almost literally) but I promised to present a neutral discussion, as the one’s who disagree with me don’t get the opportunity to preach. So here goes:
Is the devil in the music?
Let’s begin with a brief history of music in the Western world. So from about the 1200’s to about the 1700’s music what we call “classical.” It was the music of the Renaissance era, the Romantic era, the Enlightenment era, it was the symphonies of Bach and Beethoven… you know… the music that puts us all to sleep. That’s what music sounded like for a long time in the Western world.
And then in the late 1600’s, early 1700’s there was that peculiar institution that brought African bodies bound for America. And there, deep in the mud and muck of the southern plantations and African slave labor camps was born two new forms of music: the Spirituals and the Blues.
We know the Spirituals, we still sing them today.
“Don’t you let nobody turn you round,'”
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,”
“Wade in the water… God’s gonna’ trouble the water.”
They were songs about God. They gave rise to the contemporary Gospel that we sing today, the songs that we sang this morning. It all started with the Spirituals.
And then there was the Blues.
It was the music that “ached so good.” It was music that wasn’t about God, it was about life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt when your woman walked out of your life. Music that spoke of how bad it felt to be poor and not have a penny to your name.
I want you to know that even in slavery this debate went on among Christians, the Spirituals were good and the Blues were sinful. But for some reason our ancestors couldn’t let the Blues go. So even after slavery and well into the reconstruction era and beyond, there were places called Juke joints where people would sing, gamble, and grind on each other- places that were called the den of sin, the den of the devil- and then the very they would be up early for church on Sunday. And people began to notice that the same musicians who were performing on Saturday night were the same church musicians on Sunday morning. And everyone loved the music all the same.
As the Blues began to grow and develop it gave rise to Jazz, and rock and roll, and r&b, and finally in the 1980’s, in the mean streets of New York City, something entirely new was born… hip hop.
Hip hop is but poetry with a beat, poetry set to a rhythm.
In defense of hip-hop, it is the music of African American intrepidation and defiance. In a culture that has for centuries attempted to control, imprison, oppress, and kill the black race, hip-hop is the voice of a people who refuse to die. And when the young black boy who hasn’t eaten in three days walks to school with shoes that have holes through and through, as he puts his headphones on and turns Jay-Z up he is saying to the world, “despite it all. I am still here. I am still alive.” That’s what hip-hop is.
On the other hand, hip-hop is marked by it’s negative themes:
Gang violence- the “us vs. them” rhetoric.
Drug use and distribution- getting high and getting rich getting others high.
Sexually explicit content- have you noticed that every rap song lately is about strippers?
If I had the time I could identify for you where in history these elements came from, the rising of gangs in the 80’s, the introduction of crack-cocaine in poor black communities in the late 70’s, the sexual revolution in the 60’s- but I don’t have time to break it down for you… you should have come to Bible study. Suffice it to say, hip hop has some pretty violent imagery and get’s blamed for the ills in the black community:
Hip hop is the reason that teenage girls are getting pregnant at 15.
Hip hop is the reason that the homicide rate is so high in the black community.
Hip hop is the reason that young boys do not mind going to prison.
Hip hop is the reason that drug abuse is ripping families apart.
Hip hop is at fault. Because hip hop is of the devil.
It’s the devil, you see. The devil is using the music to kill, steal, and destroy us. And we have for some time used the Bible to “prove” this argument. We have told this tale about Satan. That he was the head of music in heaven and then he became pretentious and willful and was cast from the sky on to earth. But he still uses his gifts for music to stir us all to sin. And the text we read together this morning is typically used as Biblical evidence for this legend. Ezekiel 28 is the text that is used to back this claim that the devil is in the music:
verse 12, “you were the seal of perfection full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
verse 14, “with an anointed cherub as guardian, I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God.”
Verse 17, “your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.”
Verse 19b, “you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever”
When we read this text we think that Ezekiel is talking about Satan’s great expulsion from the choir loft in the sky.
But what if I told you that this text is not about Satan at all?
This text and the book of Ezekiel is to and about the kings in and around Israel. This particular text is about the King of Tyre. The prophet is using the ancient rhetoric of the garden of Eden to let the king know that God will expel him from his kingdom in the same way that Adam was expelled from paradise. It’s a political, contextual, specific polemic against a corrupt monarch. It is not about Lucifer at all.
What if I were to tell you that contrary to what we have been saying all this time…what if I said the devil is not in the music… the devil is in the church.
I said it. The problem is not the music, the problem is the church.
There is no essential power in hip hop music. You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Nicki Minaj talk about her butt all day and there is nothing she could say, no music video she could make that was so compelling that it would make me want to get butt injections.
You could sit me in a room and force me to listen to Lil Wayne rap about getting high all day and there is nothing that he could say that would make me want to drink that syrup or whatever it is that makes him crazy as hell.
Why? Because my identity is not formed or shaped by Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. My identity is formed in Christ.
Therein lies the problem. For a whole generation of people, hip hop is providing a sense of identity. Hip hop is providing a sense of hope. Hip hop is offering a world view and perspective…. Hip hop is doing the work of the church.
The problem is that the Church provides an identity, a world view and a perspective too but it is one that most people do not fit into. At church you are expected to be a “good stand up Christian.” And being a good Christian is a journey, it takes a lifetime. But church members are expected to have it already figured out. And for those who haven’t got it figured out, for those who can’t fake it like they have it figured out, they do not belong at church.
People who are dealing with the mud and muck of life
when things are not right in life.
when life is a mess:
“I love my wife, I do, but I can’t stop cheating on her.” People like that.
“I know I should leave my boyfriend, he hits me. But I love him so deeply.” People like that.
“I want to put the crack pipe down but it’s like fire inside of me. And I hunger for it all of the time.” People like that.”
“I was born a man. But I feel like I was supposed to be a woman.” People like that.
“I can’t find a job so I sell drugs because mamma’s rent still has to get paid.” People like that.
People like that are not welcome in the church.
And so such people just don’t show up to church and turn to other voices for identity, and hope, and meaning. They turn to hip hop.
And as Christians, as a community of believers, we have to stop blaming the Devil and take a long hard look at our institution. We have the answer. We have the truth. It’s our mission to tell everyone that the provision you are looking for,
the hope that you are looking for,
the love that you have been waiting on,
the answer you have been searching for is not found in Drake,
the answer is in Jesus.
Jesus is the one you have been waiting on. Jesus is the one who can save you. Jesus is the one who can heal you. Jesus is the one who can free you. It’s not Jay-Z, it’s Jesus.
It is not until we the church stops pointing the finger of blame at the Devil and starts actually being the Church that transformation can ever happen. When we begin to let people who are broken be broken before God in our sanctuaries and find healing with our Lord, transformation will finally happen.
Then teenagers will stop getting pregnant.
Then the homicide rate will go down.
Then drug abuse will stop ripping apart families.
Then we will finally reign in the kingdom of God.
The devil is not in the music, my friends. The devil is in here. And it’s time to exorcise our Christian institution of hatred, of judgement, of exclusion, and intolerance in order to make room for peace and hope, and healing, and love so that God’s people may finally find exactly what they need.
And what they need is Jesus.
Let’s stop blaming the music, let’s stop blaming the devil, and let’s start changing the world.