Kanye West and the Need to Be Human

Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Kanye West is a special kind of person. Loathed by some, worshipped by others, it’s hard not to have an opinion on him. Last year alone he went from the mental hospital to meetings with President Trump. His music is vulgar, gritty, and brutally honest, with lyrics of power, fame, and how he thinks of himself as a god. Then one night in 2008 in Singapore, Kanye West starts a freestyle at the end of his concert…

What does it feel like, I ask you tonight
To live a real life
I just wanna be a real boy

During that freestyle (later entitled Pinocchio Song) Kanye West tapped into the deep need for us all to be human. 

This was the original lie Adam and Eve believed when the serpent promised, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). 

It seems that all of our problems stem from us not wanting to be human. We hate our human limits and try in many ways to break free from them. We’re busy and tired. Running around and counting the days until Friday, until spring break, until graduation, until… 

If we need to recover our humanity, we have to go back to the beginning in Genesis and ask ourselves some questions on what it means for us to be human:

“Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”

1.) Whose are you? 

In Pinocchio Song, Kanye asks: 

Do you think I sacrifice, a real life
For all the fame, and flashing lights

Our generation is going through an identity crisis. Most people either get their identity from inside (“follow your heart”) or looking for worth from the outside (parents’ approval, résumé, work, relationships, etc.), but the Bible says this struggle to be human starts not with the “in” or “out”, but “up.” Before you ask, “Who am I” you need to settle “Whose am I?” 

In our culture of autonomy and freedom, it can be easy to believe the lie that we’re in complete control of our lives and identity, but novelist David Foster Wallace claims that we are all enslaved to something. We all have an answer for “whose we are”:

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.  Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on…

What we worship in this life ends up owning us. Kanye West has sacrificed being a human for the allure of the fame and power his status as a rapper gives him. Genesis 1 says that we’re God’s because he created us. We’re completely dependent on him in every way.

2.) Who are you? 

It’s like I’m looking for something out there, tryna find something
I turn on the TV, and see me, and see nothing

You end up becoming what you worship. Whose you are, turns into who you are, whether you like it or not. Kanye has lived for the stage in such a way that he doesn’t know who he is off of it. He now looks at himself and sees nothing. At the center of “who you are”, is “whose you are”.

In Genesis 1:27, God says that we are made “in his image.” This means the fundamental identity of every human being is an image bearer for God, reflecting and representing him in all walks of life. This brings both deep honor and humility. We are his and are inherently valuable for who we are as human beings. Before mankind was able to perform, we were enough, because God created us and blessed us. Our dignity as humans comes from who we are – created by God – not by what we do – created by mankind. We are not God. But we are his image. Honor and Humility.

3.) What are you for? 

I’ve got everything in the world figured out
But I can never seem to find what real love is about

Whose are you? God’s. 

Who are you? His image bearers. 

But, what are you to do with that?

"God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"

At the heart of this verse is that everything you do now matters: from your 8:00 am class to a phone conversation with your parents. It all matters, because all is an opportunity to work for the Lord and to bring his kingdom to bear on the earth, as it is in heaven.  

When you realize your main calling is to be a human, it frees you up. God is God. You are not. Breathe…

Only God is:
Self-sufficient
In-control
Infinite
Omnipresent (Everywhere at once)
Omnipotent (Fix-it-all)
Omniscient (Know-it-all)

God is (and we can be as His image bearers):
Holy
Loving
Gracious
Good
Faithful
Wise

(list adapted from Jen Wilkin, None Like Him [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016])

Although the top list is only true of God, we want these things to be true of us. We don’t want to be human. We want to be God. We spend most days trying to be the list on the top instead of being human and living in the list on the bottom.

I don’t think it is surprising that Kanye West had a mental breakdown in the past year. We’re all on the verge of one every single day. When we try to become superhuman, we eventually become subhuman. By trying to create ourselves we end up destroying ourselves. The reality for Kanye and us is that we are human, created by God for God. More than that, God became human in Jesus Christ, so we could stop trying to be God and rest in being His and enjoying His salvation.  The more we are okay with us being human and God being God, the more we will understand what Jesus said: “I have to come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).