Does God want discomfort and suffering in your life? Does God want limitations on your life through such avenues as law, morality, traditions, covenants? Does the story of Abraham show that God changes his mind or that God fulfills his promises?
Matisyahu, the observant Hasidic Jewish reggae singer has abandoned the observances and taken on a quasi-religious, spiritual, customized faith. The article below reads : “Matisyahu’s relationship with Judaism: It’s complicated.” Indeed.
Are you unbound when you abandon the doctrine of God or lost?
The subheading of the Haaretz article says: “divested of his beard, his wife and his ultra-Orthodox trappings.” Matisyahu has become unbound. He says, “This stage of my life is about what you would consider the unbinding. Getting out of the religion, getting out of the marriage, the relationships.” He compares it to God bringing the Jews out of the bondage of the Egyptians. It seems he feels he’s going directly to God by abandoning the dictates and customs of the Hebrew bible.
Notice, though, that God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go so that they may serve Me.” It wasn’t simply secular freedom that God wanted for his people but rather freedom to serve God. Matisyahu also compares his new unbinding to the story of Abraham binding and offering as sacrifice his son Isaac and then being stopped by an angel. It seems he misses the point. God promised that through Isaac Abraham’s offspring would be named. If it were God’s will that Isaac have died He would have found another way for Isaac to live and have offspring because God fulfills his promises. God wanted to know that Abraham trusted him so when Abraham brought Isaac up the mountain and was willing to sacrifice him while not fulling understanding why but because he trusted God that was all God needed to know and God fulfilled his promise. In Matisyahu’s view God changed his mind for the sake of Isaac’s freedom. This would be the secular view. But God always knew what He would do even if Abraham and Isaac didn’t and the point is He was trusted. So I don’t know if Matisyahu’s unbinding is for religious transcendence. It seems, rather, that it’s for secular pursuits.
In another article he says his new album, produced under his new irreligious image, is “dealing with more real-life issues and less ideology.” By “real-life” it would, again, seem to mean secular pursuits and it’s telling that he considers biblical doctrine to be “ideology”. What’s more real in a religious person’s life than one’s standing in God’s eyes through the observance of God’s will as outlined in the bible?
Some are saying this new stripping of the observances “is some kind of weakness.” Even in the comments section of the Facebook linked article people are saying these are all excuses for selling out to the comforts of fame. I don’t know what’s in Matisyahu’s heart and mind nor do I know how he stands in God’s favor but all of this sparks interest for me into the important question of what does God want from us, how can it be known and is it absolute?
The British short story writer Rudyard Kipling wrote in The Elephant’s Child:
I keep six honest serving men
(they taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
It does seem that a lot of what Matisyahu didn’t like about being a practicing Jew is that it came from a place of blind obligation. Conversely now, as he remarks on the law: “I don’t do it because I have to, otherwise I’m sinning. I do it because I love it. I do certain things and other things I don’t do. So it’s not so black-and-white as to whether I’m observant.” But what if his love (for certain observances) is fleeting as it was with his wife? The heart is fickle.
We know who gave the law (God), we know how (the bible) but why? Paul, in the New Testament Romans 9:32 says that the reason Israel stumbled into destruction was not that they didn’t pursue the law, but that they pursued it in the wrong way: from works and not from faith; in the effort of the flesh instead of the power of the Spirit. In other words, moral effort can be a mortal sin.
Galatians Chapter 3 describes why the law was given. Even though the law as it was given is good, the flesh corrupted the law. Because of corrupt flesh the law reveals sin and intensifies sin; and second, the law sees to it that the inheritance will come to and through the promised seed. The purpose of the law was not to make people alive but to hold them in sin until the promise was made in a final sense to the seed of Abraham, with Jesus Christ. The reason the law compounded sin instead of giving life was that the recipients of the law were ruled by the flesh and devoid of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:7 describes the kind of mind which the law met with when it came: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The law requires proud and independent people to humble themselves and depend on God’s transforming mercy. What a person does (works) will never be enough. Half the observances, all the observances? No matter. It is by grace through faith, the New Testament faith in He who fulfills Abraham’s seed that brings one to God.
Matisyahu is right that the law (the observances) is a trapping that cannot free him but freedom is not found by abandoning the law either. It is promised through He who fulfills the law. Could it be that he is abandoning salvation by works and depending on grace through faith? Could it be that he’s stepping into the New Testament? Or is he stepping into the flesh? Only God knows for sure.