Music at Mars Hill: The Roots and the Suffering of the Innocent

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.

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About Luke Larsen

Luke Larsen is a freelance writer, music lover, and indie game enthusiast hailing from the Great Northwest. His writing has been featured in publications such as Paste, RELEVANT, GameChurch, and Prefix. You can find him tweeting at @lalarsen11.

  • David Kennedy

    The protagonist didn’t deserve the hand he was given — in fact, the lyrics even imply that he was a good man

    We all deserve a worse hand than we are given. It is only by God’s grace that we are not condemned to death straight away.

    To me, the real question is: Why does God choose to bless me so? I wonder if it’s because he knows I would utterly collapse under the weight of a greater burden.

    Job was chosen to be tested because of his uprightness. Aside from Christ, you might say that Job received the worst hand of all. Although he admitted he was a sinner, his situation was not brought about by his sin.

  • http://thefeedbackloopmusic.blogspot.com Luke Larsen

    David,

    Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with what you’re saying about the grace of God. Our lives depend fully on it and we could all use a greater perspective on the good things God has given us.

    However, the world that undun throws us into — an urban prison where poverty and crime stands tall — is one of victimhood. The protagonist didn’t play a part in producing the injustices around him, yet he is still a victim of them. In many ways, its the same scenario that is painted in the Book of Job and the same reason why Job raises his fists at God in confusion.

    There is a lot of injustice and a lot of suffering of the innocent in the world and it would do us right to not be afraid to try and explain it and understand it. To me, both undun and the Book of Job do just that.

  • David Kennedy

    Thanks, Luke. Definitely gave me something to think about :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/maxhaben Max Haben

    What a great song and a great band. THanks for the post Luke!


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