I’m a little behind on things, so bear with me, but let’s talk about the theology behind Cage the Elephant’s entirely non-religious song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”
The song chronicles a man walking home, seeing wicked things everywhere. First, a woman approaches him trying to sell herself to him for money and pleasure. Second, he is robbed at gun point. Third, he returns home to watch on the television a preacher who had been exploiting his church and stealing from the Lord’s coffers. After each discussion of wickedness, the chorus comes back which says:
There ain’t no rest for the wicked / Money don’t grow on trees / I got bills to pay / I got mouths to feed / Ain’t nothing in this world for free / No I can’t slow down / I can’t hold back / Though you know I wish I could / No there ain’t no rest for the wicked / Until we close our eyes for good
Consider the words above and the truths involved with this chorus.
First, the Lord said there was no rest for the wicked. In Isaiah 48:22: “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the Lord. And in Isaiah 57:20-21, it reads: “But the wicked are like the storm-tossed sea, for it cannot be still, and its waters churn up mire and muck. There is no peace for the wicked,” says my God.
In both instances, the Lord speaking to the prophet Isaiah is reaffirming the simple truth that there is no rest for the wicked. The wicked will see no rest in this life, there will be difficulty, and no peace. The Lord can and does test us all. He promises our lives will not be easy, but the wicked He specifically calls out how there will be no peace. Does he mean their lives will not have happiness? No. Does he promise there will be no pleasure? No. He says no peace. What does that mean?
The lack of peace shows that the wicked will find no fulfillment. Without the Lord to fill the gap He created each of us to fill with His presence, we try to fill it ourselves. We fill it with our jobs, money, family, sex, drugs, or anything else which we find pleasurable or pleasing. These things may make you happy temporarily, but they provide no long term satisfaction. You are always craving something more – the next fix, the next sexual conquest, the better job, the bigger house. There will always be something more, something greater you can strive for to try to fill that hole. This gap can only be filled by the peace provided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by created things.
Second, the entire tale of this song points to the truth that we live in a fallen world. Prostitution, robbery, theft from churches are all proof of the fallen nature of this world. We are fallen creatures, prone to sin. Why? We chose sin at the beginning with Adam and Even in the Garden, we chose to rebel against the Lord, choosing instead to trust in the created and not the creator.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, points out that the god of this world, the one who controls this fallen world, is Satan. He is lord over the evil, fallen nature many and blinds them to the Gospel of Christ. Those who are wicked, who willfully submit to their own sin are, by default, controlled by their own sin and the lord of this age, Satan. Christ defeated the god of this age forevermore, but we still find many submitting themselves to him. These people, as noted above, have no rest, and continue to live and act out in sin to continue perpetuating the fallen nature of this world. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned, falling short of God’s glory, reminding us of the fallen nature of the people in this world which is cursed (Genesis 3:17) and ruled by the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4).
Now, comes the hard part – there are two final notes in this song I wish to discuss. We have the fact as Cage the Elephant says, “No I can’t slow down \ I can’t hold back \ Though you know I wish I could.” What does this mean?
The artist is saying that the people are unable to hold back their urge to act in the way which they act. “The err is human,” the expression goes, and these people are failing due to their fallen nature. They are unable to stop themselves due to their own wickedness. In a way, he’s right. When we give in to the world, give in to the evil that consumes it, it can consume us as well (Romans 1:24-25).
That said, there is a way to stop ourselves from the sin of this world. That is to rely upon the Lord. He who has begun a good work in you will complete it (Philippians 1:6) and will provide you comfort when in need (John 14:26).
People can change. People can stop themselves from doing evil. The examples of sinful people who have been transformed by the Lord includes…every single Christian from the beginning of time.
That said, the singer is incorrect – there is no rest for the wicked when they “close their eyes for good.” When a person closes their eyes for good, they’re dead. When you’re dead in this life, there is a next life to come – an afterlife. Those who are wicked, those who have rejected Christ are not given rest in the afterlife. There is eternal torment (Matthew 25:46) for those who reject Christ, for the wicked. They will be in Hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:40-42). As the rich man discovered when he passed (Luke 16), there is agony in Hell – not rest as the singer suggested.
The wicked need Jesus. They need to be saved and it is up to those of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to share the Gospel message with them. We need to share the word with the wicked.
Cage the Elephant got one thing right, there is no rest for the wicked in this life. That said, in the next – there still is no rest for the wicked. When they close their eyes for good, torment begins and there is still no rest. We need to pray for the wicked, pray for the lost. Pray they come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Pray we who know Christ have compassion and share the amazing truth of the Gospel of Christ with them.