Christian Living

Hamilton, and the drive to leave a legacy

I’m often late to jump on a bandwagon, so I only recently saw Hamilton for the first time. Now I’m hooked. I loved it. The song lyrics are stuck on repeat in my brain; I even keep waking up singing them! If you haven’t heard of it, Hamilton is the hit Broadway musical based on the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. He’s a ‘young, scrappy and hungry’ immigrant who is determined to blaze his way into the history books.

An enduring theme throughout is the idea of legacy. Hamilton is a man driven by making his mark. This at times causes tension with his wife Eliza, who longs to be enough for him. Her anger boils over at this obsession with his legacy when Hamilton’s paranoia about his reputation leads him to publicly admit to an affair to protect himself from other charges. He is haunted by the idea that history has its eyes on him.

His dying words in the musical have him reflecting on his legacy and concerned about how he will be remembered. The closing song commends Eliza Hamilton’s extensive efforts to ensure the contributions of her husband are commemorated. The performance ends with a dramatic gasp from Eliza, with an enigmatic meaning. You can find a dozen interpretations of it with a quick google, but the one that resonated best with me focused on this theme of legacy. It’s as if in that last moment, as Eliza looks out at the packed theatre, she is transported to the present and realises that her efforts have resulted in this: a worldwide hit musical celebrating her husband and ensuring his legacy stands.

The creator and star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, reflected in a Time interview on why the show resonates with so many people: “When we’re faced with what Hamilton got done in his life, it feels like three lifetimes’ worth. Everyone who leaves the theatre goes ‘Wow. Well what am I doing with my life? What is my legacy?’”

What is the legacy we as Christians should be seeking to leave? Most of us can look at the Hamilton-esque approach and see it doesn’t fit with the call on the Christian to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow Jesus. Any concern we have for leaving a legacy should only be that of leaving a legacy to the glory of our God.

Here are three things that might be helpful to consider as we think about our legacy as Christians.

Firstly, we need to be reminded of our own transience. Rightly viewed, human life is but a mist that vanishes at dawn (Jas 4:14), we are like grass or flowers of the field that with a puff of wind are gone and remembered no more (Psa 103:15-16). This is a truth the Bible teaches not to discourage us, but to remind us of the comfort of being caught up in God’s eternal purposes. Psalm 103 tells us that God knows we are dust and yet he has compassion for us and his love for us is everlasting. When we can see things from the viewpoint of the eternal Lord, we can keep proper perspective on our time on earth.

Next, we need to be reminded that whatever noble and worthy things we do we can only ever say of them, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty” (Luke 17:10). Our works without God are useless, for “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Psa 127:1).  In this sense any legacy we leave can only really be considered the Lord’s. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:8). In so far as our works are pleasing to him, it is only because of the Spirt at work in us. There is no place for pride in our own strength or wisdom in any of our accomplishments. That massive church you grew: not you. That amazing brood of children you raised: not you. That penetrating insight you shared: still not you.

Finally, we can have satisfaction in doing the work of the Lord. It is never in vain. We can even take pride in doing these things. In Galatians 6:4 we are told that “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”. Key here is knowing that often we feel pleased when we think we are doing better than someone else. My children are better behaved, my church is more happening, my superior abilities got me chosen to participate in this ministry. Pride that comes from comparing ourselves to others is sin. On view here is examining your own work for the Lord and knowing you have done it well, in faithfulness and only because of the gifts he has given you. We work for the ‘well done, good and faithful servant’. It’s the satisfaction with which Paul can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). By examining our own behaviour, we can know whether we are doing it for the Lord’s glory.

So, what is the legacy we seek to leave? Only that of having given glory to Christ. This can blessedly free us from the weight of making our own name great or being remembered favourably by others. We can be assured that this is a legacy freed from futility, because we know the glory of God will stand eternally regardless. In his magnificent kindness we are somehow caught up in this legacy of glory in our union with Christ. I might be waking with the words of Hamilton songs on my lips now, but only one song will remain: the cry of ‘worthy is the Lamb who was slain’. Let’s be caught up in building that legacy with the days we have on earth.