Perspective: A River’s Just a River

Since my early teen years, I’ve been a big fan of Broadway Musicals.  I played in a production of The Music Man during my High School years and ever since then I have loved so many of the songs that carry the narrative of the story in a musical. This is not to say I appreciate every Broadway musical as some are more “R” rated than “PG”.  And I must say, Hamilton has not appealed to me; founding fathers rapping their way through the inception of our nation is a bit too anachronistic for my tastes (sorry…not sorry)! But I guess, it is a matter of perspective.

One musical I’ve grown to really like is Les Misérables. Song after song on that soundtrack appeals to me and each one seems essential to the story line. One such song is “On My Own”.  It is sung by a female revolutionary (Eponine) who is secretly in love with a principal character, Marius, who himself is in love with Cosette, the little girl (now grown) whom Jean Valjean, the lead character, adopts as a child when her mother, Fantine, dies. Whew!

So, Eponine, in her dreamy imaginations of Marius, sings this song entitled “On My Own”.  Some lyrics are:

“On my own
Pretending he’s beside me
All alone
I walk with him till morning
Without him
I feel his arms around me
And when I lose my way I close my eyes
And he has found me

In the rain the pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight
And all I see is him and me forever and forever

I love him
But when the night is over
He is gone
The river’s just a river
Without him
The world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers”

I find these to be pitiful lyrics filled with pathos. First, she imagines walking with Marius down Paris streets near the river. She “feels” his arms around her. During their imagined walk in the rain, the “pavement shines like silver, all the lights are misty in the river” and the “trees are filled with starlight”. But then, she comes to herself and realized that once again, she is only pretending.  When that truth hits her afresh, the perspective on the same street upon which she has been walking changes. Now “The river’s just a river… the trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers”. Perspective.

With one perspective, the dingiest street, and the muddiest river sparkles.  From another perspective “the river’s just a river”. One might suggest that Eponine’s initial perspective of silver streets and misty lights in the river, was just pretend…make believe…and unrealistic. Fair enough. But another might suggest that such a perspective was hopeful. She loved Marius. By her perspective, however unfounded, she kept that hope alive.

The point is this: perspective helps us cope. How we see things will go a long way in how we approach life. Take the year 2020 (please…someone take it!).  See…that is a perspective, isn’t it? As believers, our perspective should be one of God’s sovereign control of all things.  With that perspective the dingy streets upon which we have been traveling can “shine like silver”.  The lights of the city can float “misty in the river”.  With a sovereign grace perspective, the way we process 2020 will be decidedly different than if we just see ourselves as the pawns of an impersonal fate, as in, “it just stinks to be us”.

Now listen, “the river’s (still) just a river”.  We are not talking about suspending reality here. COVID-19 is still COVID-19.  Shutdowns, restrictions, and masks are still cumbersome and inconvenient.  Seeing things from a sovereign grace perspective does not make everything automatically “right again”.  But it does help us to see the brightness of God’s glory in the dingiest of circumstances.  And that gives us hope.  Hope that this isn’t just some inexplicable mess.  Hope that God has designs for us in this pandemic (or sickness, or hardship, etc.) Hope that we are going to learn to be more like Jesus Christ in the trials through which we are going. Hope that at the end of the day, God reigns.

So, I don’t know about you. I’m giving Eponine the benefit of the doubt.  Like her, we need a supernatural perspective on the events of life in order to make them “shine like silver”, with lights “shining misty in the river”. The perspective of the sovereign grace of God gives us that hope.




One Reply to “Perspective: A River’s Just a River”

  1. I love musicals. That love was sparked by Wicked when I saw it on Broadway at age 12 in August of 2006. But the passion did not exist: that would have to wait. Les Mis decided to become part of my life- March 2013 was when I had to give the film a 2nd chance, and after that the rest is history.

    Wicked and Les Mis combined are why I am the musical fan I am today


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