With the release of the record-breaking Broadway play Hamilton on Disney+, a larger audience has now experienced Lin Manuel-Miranda’s historical hip-hop take on the life and death of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.
In the excerpt below, from God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired, author Kevin Cloud describes how Hamilton’s non-stop work ethic reveals his own lack of initiative and how that has affected his spiritual life.
When the newly elected President Washington nominated Hamilton to serve as his first Secretary of the Treasury, he knew exactly what Hamilton would bring to his cabinet. Hamilton rushed into this position with his trademark intensity. “Hamilton hit the ground running. . . . he knew the symbolic value of rapid decision making and phenomenal energy,” writes Chernow.
Hamilton worked with a blank slate, and immediately began to create systems and structures for this new government. He quickly became the most influential figure in defining and shaping this new country. He created a banking and financial system from scratch, a strategy to deal with overwhelming national debt, and established tax protocol and customs regulations. In addition, he established a mail system, the beginnings of what would become the coast guard, and championed industrial advances. The breadth of Hamilton’s activity during these formative years is staggering. Chernow writes, “If Washington was the father of the country . . . then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.” Joseph Ellis, in summing up Hamilton’s initiative, writes, “Once Hamilton encountered a major obstacle to the advancement of any cause in which he believed, he instinctively hurled himself onto the offensive, never looked back, and waited for no stragglers. [Whatever] the objective . . . Hamilton’s pattern was the same: to unleash his formidable energies in great bursts of conspicuous productivity.”
Hamilton’s initiative forms a major reoccurring theme throughout Miranda’s lyrics. The show begins with Hamilton’s friend, John Laurens, declaring that Hamilton accomplished so much because of his willingness to take initiative. Later, the entire company sings about how Hamilton always pushed forward in his life. Aaron Burr attributes Hamilton’s initiative as the reason for his meteoric rise in the song “Non-Stop.” Miranda recognizes Hamilton’s initiative as a defining characteristic throughout his life.
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Too often in my spiritual life, I lack initiative. My fear and lack of faith, in both God and myself, immobilizes me from attempting bold risks. At times, I see initiative as undermining the grace of God, as a lack of faith in God’s activity and providence.
At my best, I see that grace and initiative cooperate with, rather than oppose, each other. Grace forms the foundation of our lives with God, but human initiative functions in a point-counterpoint relationship with God’s grace. Both are essential for fruitful and abundant lives with God.
King David’s life, and specifically his battle against Goliath, embodies this interplay between grace and initiative. God establishes David’s rise by his grace, which creates new possibilities and a new future. God chooses David, an unknown shepherd boy, as the next king of Israel, not because David deserved this honor, but because of God’s grace alone.
God’s grace establishes the foundation of David’s future. Alongside that grace, however, David takes bold and courageous initiative. David moves forward, takes risks, and places his faith in God. The interplay of grace and initiative guides, directs, and forges David’s path.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann articulates this interplay: “Everything David does is derivative from and permitted by” God’s presence and grace in his life. In some accounts, “David takes no initiative. He does not assert himself or express any ambition. He only receives what is given. It is all ‘gift’ without ‘grasping.’” In other stories, however, “David is no longer a passive recipient of the actions of others. . . . Now he is assertive and prepared to take necessary and bold initiatives. . . . David does not usurp the initiative from Yahweh, but neither does he abdicate. David inquires in dutiful obedience. Then he acts according to a careful military plan.”
When David enters the narrative in the Old Testament, the Israelites and Philistines were fighting in an ongoing war for land and military dominance. Israel conquered the land God promised them, but the Philistines remained entrenched in the land to the west. David’s first experience of this war took place in the valley of Elah, when he brings food and supplies to his brothers who fought in Israel’s army. When David arrives, the Israelites and Philistines were lined up on opposite sides of the valley, ready for battle.
A giant, named Goliath, approaches the Israelites and challenges any man to face him. None of Israel’s soldiers muster the courage to face Goliath because of his imposing presence. Each day for forty days, Goliath swaggers onto the field of battle and taunts the Israelite soldiers. Each day, the Israelite soldiers cower in fear, hoping that somehow the problem will just go away. The situation had similarities to the early months of the Revolutionary War, with Washington’s army in full retreat mode, terrified of their opponent.
Thank you to Kevin Cloud and Deep River Books for providing this excerpt. Kevin Cloud is a writer, a speaker, and a creative. He is Director of Spiritual Life at the Culture House and was formerly the pastor of Midwest Fellowship in Overland Park, Kansas. Kevin blogs at GodandHamilton.com and GodInterest.com.