“I am the greatest living artist.”
“I have created the greatest album ever made.”
“Who will invest one billion dollars in my ideas?”
Most likely, you’ll recognize these three quotes from Kanye West’s Twitter feed that exploded into the social media stratosphere a few weeks ago. For anyone even moderately familiar with Kanye’s prior antics, this only confirmed what most of us already knew about his Mount Everest-sized ego. Kanye does what Kanye does best, which is being Kanye.
I Am Kanye, Too
And yet, all my initial annoyance and disgust soon came grinding to a halt when I realized the horror of my own heart: Kanye was merely saying everything I believe about myself. And let me prove it by telling you how difficult my Kanye-sized ego made writing that last sentence.
My mind goes to King Nebuchadnezzar. There he was, strutting on the roof of his royal palace with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon spread out below in all their splendor. The pride swelling inside his chest, the glory beaming in his eyes, the belief that all of this grandeur was actually his design, his labor, his legacy (Dan. 4:4–37). I don’t read any of this wondering how he could’ve been so prideful; I read it wondering how on earth he couldn’t have been. I would have been proud, too. I know me.
Here I am, on the second floor of a stark, vacuous office space above a former furniture warehouse. It’s not devoid of charm. The used brick walls, unfinished wood flooring, and exposed metal beams provide the look of a hipster eatery already getting rave reviews on Yelp. But it’s not that. It’s just an empty room with a fold-up table set up for a solo pastor who has a laptop, a Bible, some books, and an embarrassing number of empty Milk Duds boxes.
Outside are the scattered rooftops of an old town whose greatest claim to fame is a place called Grandpa’s Cheese Barn. It’s a quaint, quiet town, well past its glory years. It doesn’t contain a lot of opportunities for ego stroking. I’ve grown to love both the town and the people in it. I head downstairs and pause. I stand on the stairwell looking down at the myriad of tables, chairs, wall dividers, and wooden things, lovingly crafted and arranged by people who sacrificed their time, talent, and treasure to build this church home. My gaze shifts downward. All of this should be enough.
But I know me.
I know how my heart aches as I angle for the same affirmation and self-validation Kanye achieves in spades but never gets enough of. I know how deeply I long to be known and loved beyond the confines of this blue collar university town where buildings and factories suffer further ruin from the annual ravages of winter. I’m afraid—afraid of becoming like those old buildings, frail and forgotten.
Still Longing for More
Despite the heart God has shown me through this beloved community of Christ followers, I still have a Kanye West heart. It’s a heart that seeks the saccharine-like satisfaction that comes from being adored. It’s a heart that hopes my life will someday attain great enough heights that applause and recognition will be my constant companions. I see what I’m drawn to and realize that pride doesn’t really come in so many varieties. It’s simply a heart that wants to be God.
How does a heart like this affect us? In at least three destructive ways:
1. It dehumanizes us.
Pride has a way of stripping away our personhood. Kanye’s outrageous doses of arrogance cause people to form impressions of him that are more fictional than flesh. Similarly, we see an exaggerated loss of humanity in Nebuchadnezzar when, like Kanye, he refused to give God his due glory. In stark contrast is Christ, who, being fully human and fully God, embodied the fullest of those attributes by being devoted to the glory of another.
2. It strips us of reason.
Nebuchadnezzar was not a reasonable or rational man before he experienced his outtake from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His bloated sense of self-importance led to the merciless mistreatment of others as well as a heart hardened toward the God who’d treated him mercifully. Pride makes us irrational. It forms a desire to live autonomously, believing that independence from God equals freedom. You can read how this worked out for the married couple in Genesis 3.
3. It keeps us groundless.
Humbling ourselves before we get too high avoids consequences we’ll never know existed if we hadn’t. God had to remove Nebuchadnezzar from the heights of his palace and relocate him to the depths of the earth before his gaze could be properly redirected. A repentant heart is grounded in the sobriety of God’s glory.
Kanye Has Been Conquered
I rejoice in this faint glimmer of hope. I have another heart, one that is crushed by this shudder-worthy awareness of myself. The Kanye inside of me seeking to consume and control has already been conquered. This dehumanizing pride birthed in Adam has been disassembled on a cross that was assembled for a man who lowered himself to the depths of humanity to restore mine.
And I can be whole again.