In the Name of God, The Subtle, The Loving
I, like millions of people all over this country and the world, am enthralled and intrigued by English alternative rock band Coldplay’s song “Viva La Vida.” I was first introduced to the song by the Apple iTunes commercial, which featured the song a few months back. The song was somehow familiar to me, even though it was first released June 2008.
Yet, the song itself is wonderful: excellent music seamlessly weaved together with intriguing and enigmatic lyrics. As I have said before, the true test of a good song (as well as all art, in general) is the degree to which it inspires reflection and further thinking. This song did so for me.
The song seems to speak about someone who has fallen from a position of power: someone who used to be king and is now deposed:
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the King!”
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
As I listen to the song, I imagine what is would be like to “rule the world,” to have the seas “rise when I gave the word.” I must admit, it felt unbelievable. Imagining myself possessing that kind of power stirred in me a feeling I never knew I could have: one that craved such unfettered power. We like to think that we are immune to the corrupting influence of absolute power, but alas, I am subject to the weaknesses and hypocrisies of the human condition.
So does, it seems, the subject of “Viva La Vida.” The former King seems to suggest that he liked his power too much and it corrupted him:
It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People could not believe what I’d become
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be King?
The answer to that last question is simple: lots, and lots, and lots of people.
There are people all over this world who would not shy from killing and torturing in order to become (or to continue to be) the king. It is the reason there is corruption in politics, corruption in religious leadership, corruption in family units: people enjoy absolute power too much. And once one gets this power, he or she is afraid to lose it.
Perhaps the king in the song is lamenting his loss of power? Perhaps he is repenting for his excesses while in power? Whatever the case may be, the song reminds me of an eternal fact in this world: there is only One King: the Precious Lord above. This world has sported many kings, but they have all faded (or will soon fade) away. There will be only One King left, Who will never fade away:
…the Day when they shall come forth [from death], with nothing of themselves hidden from God. With whom will sovereignty rest on that Day? With God, the One who holds absolute sway over all that exists! (40:16)
True dominion and sovereignty belongs only to God, even though He has allowed us to exert sovereignty over this world on a temporary basis. Even though we may think we have power over this earth, that we can do whatever we want, true power only belongs to the Lord God:
Say: “O God, Lord of all dominion! You grant dominion unto whom You will and take away dominion from whom You will; and You exalt whom You will and abase whom You will. In Your hand is all good. Verily, You have the power to do anything. ()
Remember the encounter between King Nimrod and our master Abraham (pbuh)?
Are thou not aware of that [king] who argued with Abraham about his Sustainer, [simply] because God had granted him kingship? Lo! Abraham said: “My Sustainer is He who grants life and deals death.” [The king] replied: “I [too] grant life and deal death!” Said Abraham: “Verily, God causes the sun to rise in the east; cause it, then, to rise in the west!” Thereupon he who was bent on denying the truth remained dumbfounded: for God does not guide people who [deliberately] do wrong. (2:258)
Power deludes; power deceives; power, when given, can completely destroy a person: as it did the king in “Viva La Vida.”
I am tested with this power on a daily basis. I work in Critical Care Medicine. On countless occasions, I have been faced with patients in critical condition, for whom I had to make split-second decisions. I have placed tubes in countless patients’ windpipes, helping them breathe and “saving” them from death by asphyxiation. I have ordered countless medications that have helped patients get better and avoid death. So many times I have been thanked by loved ones for “saving the life” of the patient.
It is so very easy to slip into the thinking that it is I who does the healing; that it is my hand, my knowledge, my expertise that saves the patient from dying. It is so very easy for me to be like King Nimrod, who told Abraham (pbuh) “I [too] grant life and deal death!” It frightens me to the very core of my being.
I continuously remind myself that I do nothing. I am not the healer. I do not grant life and deal death. It is God that gives life and takes it away. I just fill out the paperwork. The moment I come to think it is I that “saves the lives” of my patients, it is time for me to leave medicine. I pray to the Precious that I never fail this test.
The sooner we realize that our castles truly do stand “upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand,” then we can take care not to abuse any power that we are given on earth. We must take care to be honest, good, and careful stewards of the power that is given to us. All power comes from the All-Powerful: it is a trust between us and He, and we must take the utmost care not to betray that trust.
If ever we are tested with hearing:
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
We must be extremely careful not to let that delude us: that power is a blessing and test from the Lord, and He will call us to account for how we used that power. We must always remember that God is the only True King, and it is as Jesus Christ (pbuh) said: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
And if we seem to be able to do whatever we want on earth with impunity, we must always remember God’s word:
Let it not deceive thee that those who are bent on denying the truth (or those who are ungrateful) seem to be able to do as they please on earth: it is [but] a brief enjoyment, with hell thereafter as their goal – and how vile a resting place! (3:196-197)
Is it not better that we be honest stewards of power; for the good of all on earth?