Those of you who know me, know that I love musicals. I grew up on such classics as: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I, and many more. In recent years, new favorites like Wicked, Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and most recently, Hamilton, have gained a huge following in popular culture. I think it’s safe to say, the musical is here to stay.
What I love most about musicals is their ability to speak across generations. They use a broad palette of artistic expression to tell a story that transcends the music and script. With memorable characters and catchy songs, they uniquely open watchers to recognize the beauty of our human condition.
One Wicked song especially captures these ideals. Titled “For Good,” the song is a duet between the two main characters: Glinda and Elphaba. It focuses on how these two complete opposite characters have had a profound impact on each other. The refrain says, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? / But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” What a powerful idea!?! In today’s world, many believe that people who are different from us are worthy only of distant tolerance at best and overt fear and violence at worst. This reality speaks of the increasing importance of the idea that relationships are the key to our betterment and growth. But more important is the way this song relates to our faith.
When considered as a statement about our relationship with God (Father, Son, and Spirit), these lyrics become all the more profound. First, we hear the question, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”. It brings to bear our doubts and fears. At certain times in our faith journey, most of us wonder whether we are actually better off for it. Whether related to behaviors now taboo, or regarding the way our faith often affects our personal relationships, these changes don’t always seem beneficial. Difficult circumstances challenge our faith as well. Trauma, loss, violence, pain all call into question our claims to serve an all-loving God. How then can our faith be good? This is where the second half of the lyric comes in.
When we begin to question the positiveness of our belief, only our relationship with God will prove its worth. As the second line says, “But because I knew you. I have been changed for good.” Now, this can be read two ways. In the first sense, it means that our relationship has changed us permanently. We are fundamentally different than before our relationship began. This is certainly true when it comes to the divine. Each encounter changes us in ways beyond our comprehension. The second way we can read this phrase is a bit more complicated but far more interesting. Rather than a permanent change, it could read that our relationship changes us to do good. In other words, God works in and with us to make us better than we are, eventually making us good. Thus, knowing God is the key to our salvation.
So Glinda and Elphaba are right. Relationships, especially with those who are drastically different from us, are key to our becoming our best selves. This is primarily accomplished by a relationship with God (Deut. 6:5). Relationships with others necessarily aid us as well (Lev. 19:18). Only together can we truly change for good.