Monday, November 06, 2006

Grace and Law in Les Miserables

Last night the older kids and I went to see Les Miserables, the School Edition, put on by a sister chapter of our theater organization. We were amazed at the maturity of the cast (ages 8-18), especially the male leads. But we were struck by the power of the story as much as the strength of the performance.

The kids wanted to understand: Why does Javert commit suicide after Valjean lets him go?

At the story's beginning, Jean Valjean is condemned by the Law for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's child. For this crime, he serves 19 years (under the exacting Inspector Javert) and is released on parole. But the Law still accuses; everywhere he goes, he must identify himself as an ex-convict. Unable to get work, he breaks parole and runs. He receives a meal from a Bishop, and then in desperation, steals the church's silver and flees.

He is captured and once again accused by the Law. But the Bishop, to his amazement, affirms his story that the silver had been a gift. "Friend, you left in such a hurry that you forgot part of the gift. Take these silver candlesticks too."

Such is Grace: Unexpected, undeserved, unimaginable. When under the Law we deserve death, we are given Life; we are gifted beyond our mightiest striving.

Javert, the Law, continues to hunt Valjean as a parole breaker, even though Valjean becomes a model citizen, a mayor, a friend of the poor and destitute, extending to many others the Grace he was shown. Although Valjean asks for mercy, for grace, for himself and others, Javert will hear none of it. The Law only condemns. Valjean is forced to flee again and again.

Years later, in a twist of events, Javert betrays a group of revolutionaries and is given to Valjean for punishment by death. By the Law, he--a traitor--deserves and expects it. What he receives at Valjean's hand is Life.

He receives Grace: Unexpected, undeserved, unimaginable.


Javert does not believe in Grace. He has never extended Mercy to anyone, and he cannot allow himself to receive this Grace, freely given. The only way for him to absolutely refuse the Grace offered him--which is Life--is to take his own life.

How profound are the consequences of refusing Grace! By refusing It--even by refusing to believe in It--we refuse Life.

We like to downplay the reality of damnation. We emphasize instead the Love and the Mercy of God. We think we'll receive Mercy because of something good He'll find in us, or that, because of our good lives, we'll deserve Mercy. We forget that by the Law, we are condemned.

But He freely extends Grace to us, whether we deserve it, whether we receive it, whether we believe in it--

Or not.


If you liked this post, a similar one--also related to a musical--is here.

When we returned home, we found that we'd been t-p'd!

Still trying to figure out who did it.

It feels like we've crossed some kind of initiation line into official parents-of-teenagers status.


Jennifer said...


you wrote a really good summary of Les Mis Miserables. I have been meaning to read the book, now I really have to. What a great experience for your kids to see the play.
thanks for sharing,

Anonymous said...

I have loved Les Miserables ever since I watched the movie version with Liam Neeson playing Valjean, but I never thought to make that connection. Isn't it amazing how even a fictional book can have so much unintended Biblical truth in it! Thank you so much for sharing this!

RANDI said...

Honestly, I have only seen the movie, but it is a wonderful story. Thanks for the added insight today--something to ponder, for sure!

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