As I have pondered the events of the past week, a song I keep pondering as a useful expression of my own sentiments and concerns. This song was released as a single by the band Linkin Park some time ago as part of a concept album, but the work stands well on its own and has a great deal of relevance in expressing the relationship between our troubled society and fears of judgment. The lyrics of this song are constructed in an unusual song, as there are multiple repeated lyrics and the song does not have a traditional verse-chorus organization, so today the way we will look at the lyrics and meaning and relevance of this song is to examine each of the song’s quatrains in order and comment on its repetition.
“The Catalyst” begins with a repeated quatrain that opens the theme of the United States of America under threat and judgment: “God bless us everyone / We’re a broken people living under loaded gun, / And it can’t be outfought, it can’t be outdone, / It can’t be outmatched it can’t be outrun, no–” This stanza is repeated twice, to make its effect greater. The relevance of these verses to our situation is rather blunt. Linkin Park turns their attention from mankind to seeking the praise and grace of God, recognizing the threat of violence and judgment that hangs over our heads. We cannot escape this judgment on our own–we are a broken people with broken families and relationships and broken and corrupt institutions. None of us can seek to escape the threat of violence without the aid of our Heavenly Father–certainly disaster can overtake us wherever we go unless we have the love and protection of God. This is an unexpected statement of faith from Linkin Park, but a welcome one.
The next stanza (which is repeated several times throughout the song) continues as follows: “And when I close my eyes tonight / To symphonies of blinding light, / God bless us everyone / We’re a broken people living under loaded gun.” Here the concerns of the opening stanzas are repeated and elaborated. It would appear as if Linkin Park is praying to God for a blessing and repenting of the sins of his people, even while trying to sleep amidst the chaos and confusion that surrounds them. This is the same sort of prayer we find often in the psalms and prophets, and it would about as if Linkin Park is seeking to intercede with God on behalf of a broken people who has not yet bowed the knee to God in repentance and sought restoration. While it may be a futile gesture, it certainly is a noble one, and it increases my own esteem and respect for the band greatly.
The song continues: “Like memories in cold decay / Transmissions echoing away. / Far from the world of you and I, / Where oceans bleed into the sky.” This stanza seems to reflect upon the fact that our faith as a nation is like a decaying memory, where the habit of superficial religiosity remains long after the animating presence of genuine faith is no longer present. Transmissions are echoing away with pious words long after genuine obedience to and faith in God is no longer present even in the partial and limited way it was present in this nation from the beginning. Also, the song points out that God is far from us because we are far from God. The prayers and words we make, seeking to speak with God, go far from the world where you and I live, a world that is filled with violence and evil, and that cycle like the water cycle that goes from ocean to sky and back again.
The next verse, such as it is, begins as follows and is repeated twice: “God save us everyone / When we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns / For the sins of our hand, the sins of our tongues / The sins of our fathers, the sins of our young, no–” Here again, Linkin Park is driven by the state of our society to reflect upon the reality and severity of God’s judgment. They wish to be saved, rather than suffer torment in the lake of fire. They know that we have all sinned in our behavior, in our words and thoughts, and that we suffer as a result of the sins of our parents’ generation (and sometimes the sins our parents have committed against us) and that we who are young have also sinned and bear our own blame and responsibility. This is a rather mature understanding, even if it is somewhat of a gloomy subject to reflect on. Nonetheless, the sincere wish of Linkin Park to find salvation for themselves and for our entire people is a noble one. Oh, that we would repent of our wicked ways and seek to follow our Creator as He has commanded.
After the preceding two stanzas are repeated, the song goes to the bridge, which repeats the phrase “Lift me up, let me go,” eight times. This would appear to represent a tension between a desire to be lifted up by God and a feeling of discomfort at the presence of God around us, as we are all unworthy of His love and mercy and grace. This part of the song, which again appears like a prayer, is not vainly repeated but is definitely repeated for emphasis. After this previous stanzas are repeated again as the song reaches its conclusion. The fact that this song was a top 40 hit is impressive in our age, as it appears that quite a few people (myself included) share the wish for our own societal forgiveness and restoration to the favor of God. And the fact that the song was released in the absence of any such specific crisis as we have been dealing with over the past week suggests that they understand the problems lie deeper than just in a couple of shootings, but rather in a culture that has turned away from the ways of God. May we turn to a deeper obedience to and understanding of the ways of God while there is yet time to do so, if we still have time.