“Radioactive” is the Grammy award winning smash hit by the band Imagine Dragons. The song has a really cool sound which, frankly, you don’t hear very often. Check it out above. The lyrics can be read here.
The first question I have when trying to interpret the theology of a song is – what is the song about. Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons in an interview with MTV News said the following about the song:
“‘Radioactive,’ to me, it’s very masculine, powerful-sounding song, and the lyrics behind it, there’s a lot of personal story behind it, but generally speaking, it’s a song about having an awakening; kind of waking up one day and deciding to do something new, and see life in a fresh way,” he said. “A lot of people hear it in a dark way, but, I think, without saying the word too many times, it’s empowering, and so we wanted to display that in a way that the listener wouldn’t see normally.”
With that in mind, let’s discuss the lyrics in depth and their theological implications.
The song begins with the words, “I’m waking up to ash and dust / I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust / I’m breathing in the chemicals…” The singer is coming out from some difficult situation and finding himself in unfamiliar territory. He continues, “I’m breaking in, shaping up, then checking out on the prison bus / This is it, the apocalypse.”
The singer awakens to something, realizes a change is needed and sees it as a metaphorical apocalypse, an end to a previous life or set of behaviors. As believers, this is what happens to us as we accept Christ. We are new creations, born again to Christ. Our old selves are dead and the new man in Christ is alive (Ezekiel 36:26-27, John 3:3-5, Romans 6:3-10, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 1:23). We have been transformed and this metaphorical apocalypse destroyed our old selves. We get off the prison bus of the slavery we were under in our old lives and live anew in Christ (John 8:34, Romans 6:16-20).
With more symbolism, the singer continues, “I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones / Enough to make my systems blow / Welcome to the new age.” Once again, this is a reference to the same topic. He’s waken up from his past and is completely transformed anew. In the song, the singer is referring to some generic change in his life. As a Christian, we see this playing out in the total transformation found in Christ. We see a glimpse of it now through the indwelling of the spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). In the end, we will see the complete transformation through Christ into the new creation we were destined to be, truer image bearers of God (1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Philippians 3:21, Revelation 21:1-4). The apocalypse in that example is real, not metaphorical, followed by a new creation for those in Christ. We’re getting to end times eschatology here which can get hard to follow and causes the closest and most united of theologians to argue, so I’ll return back to the song.
The lyrics continue, “I raise my flags, don my clothes / It’s a revolution, I suppose / We’ll paint it red to fit right in.” This then returns to a repeat of the lyrics I mentioned above. Once again, it’s a revolutionary change in the man’s life. Jesus also came to complete a counter-cultural revolution. He flipped over temple tables purging the temple of money changers (Matthew 21:12-13). He called out hypocrites (Luke 11:37-53, John 8:2-11). He rebelled against cultural Sabbath norms (Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:1-5), talked with outsiders (John 4:1-26), and dinned with sinners (Mark 2:15-17). He calls us to radical change, raise the flag of Christ, and revolt against the world. We don’t need to “fit right in” as the song continues, this one line appears to contradict the radical changes discussed by the remainder of the song.
The singer says a number of times that he’s “radioactive.” The be radioactive is to be spontaneously unstable and changing. Christ prompts spontaneous changes in people and appears like instability in the other person. Look at the lives of people like Chuck Colson or the apostle Paul, radical spontaneous life changing events leading to instability in their old lives.
Christ can make us radioactive.