World-famous Reggae / Hip Hop artist, Matisyahu, shocked his fans recently by posting a picture of a freshly shaved version of himself on Twitter. Most people don’t make news when they shave, but this iconic pop star has become known for his close ties to Hasidic Judaism, and his traditional, almost Orthodox garb.
This surprised many of his fans.
His explanation on his website said:
“No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey :to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality—not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity…to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.“
He told Rolling Stone magazine:
“The group I was heavily into said you can’t cut (your beard) even if you want to. Besides, it’s a representation of God’s mercy. If you cut that off, you’re like, cutting of God’s mercy. So I bought into that, for a long time…Then I realized that some of my ideas, at least for me at this at this point, were not true anymore. I think it’s a symbol, and symbols aren’t the thing itself. If I’m connecting with God internally, if I believe in my own goodness and God’s goodness, than that idea (not cutting his beard) just didn’t resonate with me anymore.”
In an interview with WNYC Radio, he said:
“What happened was that I recently realized that God’s mercy can’t possibly be connected to me shaving or not shaving. Over the last few weeks I went through a pretty major transformation, probably bigger than any in my life, due to several things, but a lot of revelations and a lot of realizations starting coming clear to me. The idea that God’s mercy is connected to whether or not I shave, is ludicrous. I need to just trust myself. If I’m deserving of God’s mercy, I’ll get it.”
From my point-of-view, I’m glad to hear that Matisyahu is wrestling and grappling with his faith. I think it is important for all of us to continue to grow, to reexamine, and to struggle. A faith that can’t handle such searching certainly is a crippled and impotent faith.
For me as a Christian, I feel that Mayisyahu is getting very close to the truth. He is sensing the inadequacy of law-keeping as a means to making you holy. He realizes that it is not his outward expressions of devotion or worship that makes him right with God, but rather his heart.
“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
“Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)
My hope for Matisyahu is that he will recognize the logical contradiction in his view of God. Indeed, if we can deserve God’s mercy, then it is no longer mercy. I hope he will discover, as did the radically Orthodox Jew, Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul the Apostle), about two thousand years ago:
“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
We are unworthy on our best days, and unworthy on our worst. But thankfully, for our sakes, God has shown mercy on us, not because of our merit, but because of the sinless life of His son, Jesus Christ, and our trust in His payment for our sins. When Paul came to grips with this, he wrote:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:15-17)
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:2-4)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)