This one comes to us from new Mbird contributor Matthew Schneider:
If you’ve paid attention to the news the past few days, you’ve probably caught wind of rapper Jay-Z and wife Beyoncé’s newborn daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. Even bigger news since Monday is Jay-Z’s hip-hop release dedicated to Blue Ivy: “Glory Ft. B.I.C”. My immediate reaction to the news, without hearing the song (and maybe yours is similar), was something like, “Give me a break.”
But I came home later to my wife listening to the song. My reaction then was that it is actually a gospel (that is, Good News) song whether Jay-Z knows it or not. Yes, a few lines flirt with semi-pelagianism (or “God-helps-those-who-help-themselves-ism”), but the overall tenor is definitely one of grace. In fact, the track sheds light on God’s relationship with us, yet without taking human suffering, pain, and loss for granted as a real part of life. In other words, Jay-Z does not have an “I’m fine, you’re fine, everybody’s fine” attitude.
Here are some gems to show you what I mean:
The most amazing feeling I feel
Words can’t describe the feeling for real
Baby I paint the sky blue
My greatest creation was you, you
As a new father of an 18-month-old daughter, I can relate. Blue Ivy, only two-days old by the time the song was released, has done absolutely nothing to earn her father’s love—she is incapable at this age to merit the love of her father. If anything, just the opposite is true. A baby this young mostly just fills their diaper a lot and cries at very high pitches. Nevertheless, like Jay-Z, while still in the hospital waiting for discharge, I shared a similar sentiment that my daughter was “my greatest creation,” and I wanted to “paint the sky blue.” Likewise with the love of the Father (capital “F”), which St. Paul explains this way, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5).
Not only does Jay-Z in “Glory Ft. B.I.C” paint a picture akin to God’s grace, but he also speaks words of truth about human suffering—the kind of suffering that God works through. In fact, this is perhaps the most touching aspect of the song. The biggest news, as revealed for the first time with the song’s release, is that of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s previous miscarriages (and possibly other complications with conception):
Last time the miscarriage was so tragic
We was afraid you disappeared
But nah, baby you magic (voilà)
So there you have it, shit happens
Make sure the plane you on is bigger than your carry on baggage
Everybody goes through stuff
Life is a gift love, open it up
I don’t know about you, but when I hear these lyrics and their “blue notes,” I can’t help but thank God I’m not the only one suffering—it is a balm for the sin sick soul. I may not have experienced the tragedy of a miscarriage, but I can relate for other reasons. As Jay-Z tells us, “there you have it, shit happens.” Yet God is at work in the, um, excrement of life, helping us recognize how life—not only in this world—is a fragile gift.
Sure, there are places in the song where we can tease out a little naïveté, such as the insurmountable hope Jay-Z seems to put in Blue Ivy—“I wreak havoc on the world, get ready for part 2. A younger, smarter, faster me”—or maybe assertion (in light of Psalm 143:2 or Romans 3:10) about his own father—that “deep down he was a good man.” I also don’t understand his use of “glory.” For now though, I suggest we put all that aside and see Jay-Z’s diagnosis of what it means to be flawed humans in light of a perfect God:
God’s gift, I wish I would’ve prayed more
God makes no mistakes, I made a few
Rough sledding here and there, but I made it through
Seen through the light of the cross, Jay-Z’s words take on an even deeper meaning: We do indeed make it through “the rough sledding” — God saves us despite our “few” mistakes, and it doesn’t matter how much we’ve prayed—He gave us the free “gift” just the same. Glory!