Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
The Roots have always had a thinking man’s rap group, and their new concept album, undun, is certainly no exception. The album tells the story of a man named Redford Stephens (based off the Sufjan Stevens song “Redford”) who makes some bad decisions based on his harsh urban surroundings. The album, which officially was released yesterday, tells the tale backwards, starting with the protagonist’s death and ending where he begins to do “dirty jobs” to begin to find favor in the world. In “Tip The Scale,” the protagonist sets up his situation like this: “Some think life is a living hell/Some live life just living well/I live life trying to tip the scale my way.”
However, the story of the album isn’t really about details or plot events. Instead, to me, it raises the age-old question of injustice and how to live in a world where rain falls on the good and the evil. The protagonist didn’t deserve the hand he was given — in fact, the lyrics even imply that he was a good man (“Let he without sin live without sin”). Even still, the character falls into a life of crime and drug trade as his only option of survival, knowing that the natural order of things won’t play to his favor.
Throughout the album, thoughts of suicide are always right around the corner, tempting the protagonist to end his life rather than live in the unfair situation he is in. In another song early in the story, “Lighthouse,” the character begins to feel like God has abandoned both him and the world: “No one’s in the lighthouse/You’re face down in the ocean/It seems like when you scream/There’s no one around to hear the sound/And it may feel like there’s no one there/That cares if you drown face down in the ocean.” Hearing these words, I was reminded of the book of Job and how similar the two characters’ stories line up.
Job 19:6 says, “Know then that God has wronged me And has closed His net around me.” In the midst of Job’s extreme physical loss and philosophical confusion, Job finds himself not being able to trust a God who could cause such injustice in a person’s life. In fact, like the character in undun, Job is a righteous man who doesn’t deserve the hand he was given. He also finds himself at a point where suicide seems like a better option than living (Job 7:11–16). For many, this is where not only the book of Job ends but it’s also the tension that we often live our lives in, wondering why God isn’t answering our prayers and feeling as though “there’s no one in the lighthouse,” so to speak.
It is this tension that the character in undun ultimately lives and dies in with his only hope being that when we make it “to the other side, that’s when we’ll settle up the score.” However, the book of Job gives us quite a different solution to the problem of evil and the suffering of the innocent: a face-to-face encounter with the Creator God. Although Job’s account might not present us with a clean picture of how to explain injustice in the world, it gives us hope in that when Job called upon God — even under the pretense of confrontation — God showed up. We don’t live in a world where we can put our hope in universal karma or even in the goodness of ourselves, but instead only in the sovereign goodness of God and His willingness to show up in our lives.