Who is there? That’s the powerful question asked by one of my favourite hip-hop artists Guru from his Jazzmataz - Street Soul album in the song Who's there?. It is a question forged from a graphic description of two situations. The first verse presents a helpless young woman:
These distraught thoughts of a single mother in a homeless shelter / About pain and heartache ain't nothing you can tell her / The case worker says that she should find a job / But does this worker know what kind of jobs that there are? / Degrading things like cleaning up people's vomit / For a little bit of dough and plus your brain gets nothing from it/ I'm smarter than that this girl thinks to herself / I'm worth more than that she thinks to herself / She pours a drink for herself while she stares out the window/ This guy says he got work for her maybe she should go to him yo / The money's good and plus he'll dress her up nice / She left her baby's daddy 'cause he beat her up twice / She don't really like sex / But she hates welfare checks / And where there's money that's where she thinks there's respect / And what's this girl's purpose? /Will she self-destruct? / When this sister’s about to go down who's there to help her up?
It is certainly a bleak situation. The young woman is a single mother in a homeless shelter, who is beaten on by her non-married partner (“baby father”). She is not cared for by the system (“the case worker”). She has concluded that selling sex is more respectable than living on state support (“welfare checks”). Her situation is distraught precisely because she has exchanged one form of slavery for another. A predicament that forces Guru to ask – “who is there to help her up“? Where will rescue come from? More importantly, “what’s this girl’s purpose” in life? Does her life have any meaning at all? Does this form of poverty and despair have meaning? Is this all life is about? These themes are expanded on from a different vantage point in the next verse :
These distraught thoughts of a young man in a rooming house / This messed up life this poverty he could do without / But what options does he have when all hope is gone? / A brother gotta eat plus all the Henny and all the smoke is gone / All it takes is one quick stick / Gotta fill his belly now which vic should he pick / He does his dirt all by his lonely forget his homies / He doesn't fell like splitting any loot them suckas be acting phony / So much potential but all gone to waste / Now he lurks in night with a loaded gun on his waist / Too late for this lost soul his life's in a chokehold / Mentality is weak and doing crime is all he knows / Never caring who he hurts as long as he's taking money / Forget an education and legal ways of making money / And what's this kid's purpose? Will he self-destruct? / When a brother's about to go down who's there to help him up?
The situation here is that of a helpless young man. He has a “messed up life” which has emptied out all of his hope for the future. The result is that he now fills himself up on Hennessey and taking drugs. His god is now his belly. When it speaks to feed “now” no moral consideration enter his mind. It is a simple case of “gotta fill his belly now which [store to rob] should he pick”. It is an existence that has left him “lonely”, and lurking with “a loaded gun on his waist”. The young man has become a “lost soul”, imprisoned by his circumstances. Education and legal ways of making money are now long past. A predicament that again forces Guru to ask – “what this kid’s purpose”? Does his life have any meaning? Where is meaning in all this poverty? More importantly, where will help come from? And so he repeatedly asks at the end :
Who's there for my people on the streets? / Who's there for my people who got nothing to eat? / They build more prisons and close down schools / Who's there to teach the children the golden rules? / Who's there for my people in the streets? / Who's there for my people who got nothing to eat? / They break our family neglect the elderly / Who's there to bring a cure? Where's the remedy?
These questions of course are built on a clear truth throughout. The young man and young woman are enslaved in their circumstances! But we know that Guru does not just blame their circumstance – he has also rightly pointed to their nature. In the young woman’s predicament he notes the internal moral struggles, “She don't really like sex / But she hates welfare checks / And where there's money that's where she thinks there's respect”. In the end her human nature prevails and she sells herself for sex because she concludes money gives respect. But as Guru notes, it is “self - destruction”. In other words, it is also her doing it. In the story of the young man, he pointedly notes his “mentality is weak”. His capacity to out think his problems is not there. Again a clear truth that they cannot escape the slavery they find themselves in without outside rescue.
In the end Guru's song does not answer the question he poses because the questions are rhetorical. Man on his own cannot answer such questions. In those closing lines, we have a reminder not only that help is needed from outside, but also that other people are unlikely to help. Guru despairingly notes, “Who's there for my people who got nothing to eat? / They build more prisons and close down schools”. We live in a “dog eat dog” world. It is a fallen world where “winner takes all”. It is the very foundation of evolutionary naturalism and the Darwinian economic world view which leaves no place for morals or responsibility towards others. It therefore comes as no surprise that there’s no man-made cure. The prisons and other solutions simply point to the poverty of human effort.
The good news is that though Guru does not know it, his questions do have an answer! The many people in distraught situations are not just another statistic. Their problems are not just their own. The truth that refuse to be suppressed no matter how hard we try is that these tragedies deep down make us sick about the world. The events remind us that something is not right about world we live in. There's something wrong when a young man decides to lurk in the dark with a loaded gun strapped to his waist. There’s something wrong when a woman sexually prostitutes herself just to earn a living. These things points to us that existence on earth is not as it should be. Our reactions point to the same reality. We are all saddened by these things because they speak to our very nature as moral creatures who recognise that this environment is not the environment we were created to inhabit.
This revulsion at the suffering of this world rightly point us to our Creator as the only who can solve them. The good news of Jesus Christ is that by God becoming man he has experienced the pain of suffering. He is not removed from them. We worship a God who is truly afflicted by the pain and suffering of this world. God is still grieved by the suffering of even those people who have rejected His Son Jesus Christ because God is always present in their suffering, especially when it is through grotesque injustice. As John Calvin rightly observed, “the cry of those who suffer injustice is the cry of God”. More importantly, God is calling all Christians to cry and weep with Him for the world. He is not satisfied with crying alone in the garden. He wants to draw us in and share His grief for the suffering young men and women of the world, the enslaved, the prostitutes, the drug dealers and countless victims. So then we can say : God is there! But are you there?