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WARNING: Music contains lyrics which are not suitable for children.
Jay-Z wrote the song “Lucifer” on his critically acclaimed Black Album. The lyrics can be reviewed here.
Much like I did with “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” I want to talk about the theological viewpoint addressed in this song and it’s ramifications. Let’s go.
“Lucifer” is a track is about anger, internal anger directed at, according to Jay-Z, the man who murdered the Notorious B.I.G. The track is filled with references to murder, anger, and his personal struggle to hold these emotions back. In an interview with MTV News, Jay-Z said,
A song like ‘Lucifer,’ it’s really about the struggle and really about dealing with death and having that feeling. The evil is inside of you, not this mythical character with pitchforks and things like that. Dealing with a feeling of wanting revenge.
Now, how does this anger and this track fit in with a Biblical world view? Let’s look deeper.
The track begins by seeking the Lord’s forgiveness, while simultaneously trying to defend your sin. The lyrics begin: “Lord forgive him / he got them dark forces in him / But he also got a righteous cause for sinning / Them-a-murder me, so I gotta murder them first.”
He’s seeking repentance for this internal feeling of anger, which is good, but he’s trying to justify himself saying he has “a righteous cause for sinning.” All your sin are an affront against God, even those which are against other people (Psalm 51:4, Luke 15:21). There can be no righteous cause for which it is okay to disobey the Lord. As Paul points out in Romans 3:1-3, we can not continue to sin and hope the more we sin, the more God can forgive, so therefore the more God is glorified. It does not work like that.
Sin is sin. When it occurs, it is an affront against our maker and therefore, we need to confront it, repent of it, and He is right to forgive us. There is no righteous cause for our sin. Period.
The first verse ends with rage, with the singer threatening those who he feel has wronged him. He says, “I can introduce you to your maker \ Bring you closer to nature, ashes after they cremate you bastards \ Hope you been reading your psalms and chapters \ Paying your tithe, being good Catholics, I’m coming.” He threatens the person with death, his enemy with death based on his internal rage. The second verse continues along these lines, anger, rage, murder.
Even, if as shown in the interlude of the track, this is just an internal struggle – it is still sin. As Christ points out in Matthew 5:21-22, hate in the heart, anger of the heart is sin. Sin goes back to the root of the problem, your heart, not solely your actions. Actions are just a manifestation of something which is deeper, something internal to you. These “dark forces in him…” are internal sin which still leads to eternal damnation if not for Christ (Romans 6:23).
In the interlude, Jay-Z talks about how all this is truly an internal struggle – not an actual outlet of murderous rampage. It’s internal anger, internal forces. This goes back to the root of the problem as Christ points out in Matthew 5, it’s a heart problem. Sin is a heart problem, not just an action problem. It’s how you think, how you feel within.
In the third verse, Jay-Z addresses that this is all an internal struggle and how he dreams of killing Biggie’s killer. He then uses his tongue to curse the murderer. He then proceeds to ask the Lord to forgive Biggie for his sins and himself for his sins, ending by seemingly putting the blame on Satan for these sins.
We are tempted by our own desires, our own sin – not necessarily by the Devil (James 1:14-15). Satan is real, he is an enemy of man (1 Peter 5:2), he is a force in the universe – but we like to give him credit where it’s not due. Satan is created, therefore limited in power and presence. He will be defeated by Christ and through Christ we are granted the strength to resist him (Hebrews 2:14-15, James 4:7). Sin begins with us more often than not. John Piper in his sermon on putting to death sin (link), said the following on the Christian battle with sin:
There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame. It’s violence against the impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference to injustice and poverty and abortion.
Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses.
It is easy to blame the devil for the things you do, but as Beck points out in his track “Nobody’s Fault but My Own,” that’s a selfish way to live. It is our own fault for our sins. Satan doesn’t send anyone to Hell, we send ourselves by our own actions.
We can beat Satan if we stand firm in Christ (1 Peter 5:8-9). Now, can unbelievers? Not without the Holy Spirit. There are ways to self-help, ways to make yourself feel better – but they do not change or wash us clean of the problems of sin. An atoning sacrifice is required – Christ was required to atone for our sins (Galatians 1:4).
Lucifer has some great beats as it tells us of the internal struggle of a man lacking in the Holy Spirit. He is fighting a battle on his own with his own sin, trying to blame it not on himself, but a compartmentalized version of himself which he is calling “Lucifer.” As Jay-Z said above in his interview with MTV News, this is about a battle with the self, not with Satan. This internal struggle is one which we will lose on our own. Without God, there is no way to win this battle with self. Without the Holy Spirit, we will continue down the sinful internal path which will only lead to death.
In a song filled with despair due to the internal struggle of the singer, who calls his own self Lucifer, we realize our true need for Christ. We need to rely upon His strength, His mercies, and His power. There is hope. Christ is that hope. He has come for all sinners, including the worst of these (1 Timothy 1:15). Our God who begins a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6) and continue to justify and sanctify each of us, remolding us in His image. Christ can do that, He can take the worst of sinners and change them. Look at the lives of so many Christians throughout history – and even to this day.