For all you Les Mis Groupies:
Every once in a while I jump in my car, roll up the windows to create that perfect Surround-Sound, and blast my favorite songs from the original soundtrack of the Broadway musical, Les Miserables, based on Victor Hugo’s novel by the same name.
Yesterday was one of those days.
And once again I found myself overwhelmed with such clear themes of law, grace, forgiveness and redemption.
Origin of the Lyrics
What’s interesting, though, is that it seems neither Victor Hugo, the novelist, nor Herbert Kretzmer, the writer of the English language lyrics for Les Miserables, the musical, intentionally retold a Bible narrative to craft this story.
Instead, they both wrote from their interactions with man’s inhumanity to man, and with the endless struggles of outcasts and underdogs at the hand of the righteous.
Hugo did so from his social and political experiences in 19th century France, and Kretzmer from his years growing up in South Africa, “a country that had more than its share of the righteous hurrying past and not seeing what was happening around them.” (Herbert Kretzmer in his interview with Al Sheahen for “The Barricade,” the in-house magazine of Les Miserables companies around the world. See full interview by Al Sheahen, 1998).
The God of It
It’s just amazing how God can use things I hate, situations that frustrate me, and those times that truly try my soul to bring me to the same conclusions I suspect he would rather me come to much more easily.
But I don’t.
And so the fire comes.
Disappointment. Devastation. Loss. Injustice. Humiliation.
Eventually I am so backed up against the fence that I have nothing left. The only choice that remains is to beg God for help–to turn my attention to him where it should have been all along.
Who Needs God?
But sooner or later, I have to put on my Big Girl Bloomies and just say what is true: Who in the world needs God to be happy in a life devoid of disappointment, devastation, loss, injustice or humiliation?
How hard can that be?
Who needs help to do what comes naturally?
I don’t. . . . I can love people who love me, ignore people who hate me, talk about people who I think are different, and declare all to be godly when I have a righteous majority of people who agree with me–all quite easily without God, thank you.
But what happens when my righteous little world is shaken by real-life dilemmas, when I am blamed for what I have not done or cannot change, when I am called to forgive when I am the victim and my perpetrator runs free, when I am drowning because the unrelenting waves are bigger than I am, when I realize there is always someone for whom I will never be good enough?
I believe Hugo and Kretzmer would say these are all universal experiences of life.
If I let go of myself and reach for HIM, then even in my un-rightness I am all right. And it is my all-rightness, despite what is clearly un-right, that turns people’s attention to God. This is the outworking of Matthew 5:16 in everyday real life: “…Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Read how Herbert Kretzmer came up with his lyrics to “I Dreamed a Dream” and other iconic songs from Les Miserables, the musical. Have you ever felt what he describes?