Darrow Miller and Friends

Les Miserables and the Power of a Balladeer

In a previous post I wrote about Les Miserables as a platform for understanding the impact of one’s worldview on how we perceive truth. But the experience of viewing the movie included, for me, a deeper level. How do we explain the power of this production to impart hope in the human heart? I believe it is the power of the artist and his craft, the power of the balladeer.

Darrow Miller has written about the ability of the balladeer to influence the culture through the arts. What is this power? Where does it come from? How can it create such response in us? How can artists and craftsmen, Christian or otherwise, call to the deep things inside us, the deep cries of our heart, to our pain and to our joy?

I believe the balladeer is a primary voice of revelation, and his craft is God’s gift to us.

Studies show[1] that human brain is wired to primarily receive ideas through images (right brain), and then process them in our critical,[2] logical, analytical left brain. Balladeering is primarily a vehicle of revelation as opposed to theology, philosophy, exegesis, apologetics and the like, which are primarily vehicles of reason. The one reaches the mind through the heart, the other, the heart through the mind. Both are critical in coming to the full knowledge of truth.

Eric Metaxas recently wrote an excellent piece on this in his Breakpoint blog. The balladeers can cast a vision of truth or one of lie, of the beautiful or the ugly, life or death, goodness or evil. Les Miserables is a powerful vision of grace and love as the answer to brokenness and poverty. Yet how is it that the work of unregenerate people—author, playwrights, and actors—can reveal such truth? And where are those with a biblical worldview to do likewise?

Les Miserables illustrates the power of the balladeer to reveal truth, and our capacity to respond to it. This power is rooted in, and reflects, the transcendent truth that every human being is “created in the image of God, male and female” (Gen 1:27) and lives within the circle of reality – objective Truth. This is true of every human, redeemed or unredeemed, submitted to God or still in rebellion. That image of God, even when denied and dormant, is still an active power, waiting to waken and burst into full life. (Pardon me for your sore theological toes). Every person still has the creative power to know, apprehend, and declare truth. (It should be noted that because of sin and the Fall, this nature is also the power to conceive, declare, and receive lies & falsehood – but that is a future discussion).  The heavens still declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and all creation, including humanity – the pinnacle of creation – declares His eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:18). And in every person, that image of God calls out for life, even as the darkness falls. Through the film I hear this cry of humanity.

Michael Gerson, in his Washington Post op-ed piece Crying At The Movies states: “There is a reason the great stories persist in provoking our lacrimal [tear producing, i.e. emotional] system: the hope that life is a story, that all the suffering, vulgarity, pity and sacrifice add up to something and lead somewhere.” The psalmist, describing his longing for connection with God, says “deep calls out to deep” (Psalm 42:7). So we, with Valjean, cry out,

He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?[3]

We hear these haunting words and wonder Is there grace for me and are thus brought to a point of decision. Will we choose redemption (grace) with Valjean, destruction (judgment) with Javert, or deeper depravity with Thenardier?

Finally, what ultimately shows me the hope of a dawning tomorrow is that all this–the power of the story, the display of truth and reality, the compelling power of the balladeer–reminds me that the Holy Spirit is still present and active in the world. God is working His plan through a people of the future living in the present – His Church. We are calling that future into the now. It reminds me that we have, in His empowering presence, the great eschatological hope for that brighter day ‘beyond the barricade’ and we that have the power to live it in this day. (For a good exegesis of this theme see Dr. Gordon Fee’s book Paul, The Spirit and the People of God.) We are enabled for this, not by our might but by his, not by power and right but by love. I am reminded of the power of true love (laying down one’s life for another) – ‘to love another person is to see the face of God.’ Where sin (and its brokenness) reigns, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20-21).

I have hope for today. I hear the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Come you who are thirsty and take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev 22:17, Is 55:1) And so I speak hope and encouragement and I call out to the balladeers, to the evangelists, to the prophets, to the compassionate, to the hopeful:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the plough-share,
They will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
So join in the fight that will give [men] the [hope] to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that [we] bring
When tomorrow comes!

Though the world daily grows darker and plunges deeper into a formless void of destruction and despair, the Spirit of the Lord still hovers over the face of the deep (Gen 1:1-2). The knowledge of the glory of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:11). God has spoken, “Let there be light” and there is light (Gen 1:3). And that Light is the life of men. That Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness can neither comprehend nor overcome it (John 1:4-5).

Take hope, for tomorrow comes!

–         Bob Evans

Bob Evans

Bob Evans is Administrative Director of Global Network Ministries, Inc., and serves as secretary of the Board of Directors of Disciple Nations Alliance. He has travelled extensively in Asia and around the world serving local church movements and leading ministry and development teams from the U.S. Bob has four children and two grandchildren, and resides in Laguna Niguel, California.

[1] The papers, articles, and studies that discuss this are too numerous to cite here. A good starting place is the book Outsmarting Yourself and other resources by Karl Lehman, M.D. and his partners.

[2] Critical meaning ‘involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.’ vs. ‘inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily.’

[3] Les Miserables (Film & Musical) lyrics quoted or alluded to include:

What have I Done; Finale; Red & Black – ABC Café; Javert’s Suicide; Stars.

print this page Print this page


1 Comment

  1. Khan

    February 10, 2013 - 6:36 pm

    Considering Spurgeon, his church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London was, in my mind, a model church. It was a light house and preaching point for the gospel. Tens-of-thousands came to Christ through Spurgeon’s preaching. And the church was a church without walls actively engaging in the needs of the greater London community. The people of Metropolitan Tabernacle were involve in over 50 ministries in there parish from soup kitchens, to skills training programs, to care for widows and orphans to literacy programs. This church understood and practiced Biblical wholism. If more churches were functioning from a Biblical model and principle then fewer people would be de-churching, the body of Christ would be growing, the Kingdom would be advancing and communities and nations would be transformed. I agree with your comment that many who sit in church pews today have not heard the whole gospel and would add that they may not have seen a Kingdom oriented church. They are experiencing meeting Christianity not a Christianity that transforms communities and lives.