“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33 (ESV)
Why yes! Yes it is. This is my response to the blockbuster hit, Les Miserables. I have seen the broadway production a couple of times, listened to the music multiple times, and now the movie. The first thing that I noticed was how easy it was to follow the storyline in movie format. I was already very familiar with the story, but this time was different. In wanting to share my thoughts on what I was able to take away from this story, there is one thing I do not want to give you…a movie review. I’m not here to add to the endless list of reviews on whether the movie was good or bad, how it compared to the broadway production, or any other opinion on cinematography, it’s oscar worthiness, or the acting. This is simply what I was able to take away from a hollywood production.
For anyone that knows the story, it is a fantastic character study of real life. Sure, it’s all set against the romantic backdrop of the French Revolution of the early 1800’s. But anyone that watches this film will be able to identify with one of the characters. Ok, maybe you haven’t succumbed to prostitution as a means for caring for your only child. You haven’t been imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, or have been the principal player in starting a revolution. But, have you ever been in love? Ever been passionate about a cause? Ever wanted to escape your past? Ever tried to live your life in a way that is better than how you used to live? Are you guilty of doing everything in your power to care for the ones you love? If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, you can identify with the story of Les Miserables. Yet the most glaring, poignant takeaway from this movie, is the connection to our lives according to God’s word. Yes, you heard me. Next to The Passion of the Christ, Les Miserables has to be one of the most scripture-inspired movies I have ever seen! Maybe this was Victor Hugo’s intent? That I do not know, but here is what I was able to attain from the 2 hour and 37 minute movie.
Jean Valjean was guilty of theft. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for this crime. Harsh? Maybe, but that’s not the point. After being released, Valjean sought refuge in a church. In his short-sightedness, he ended up stealing the church’s silver tableware. In being captured and returned to be identified and judged, the priest simply looked upon him with grace and mercy and allowed him to go free with a charge to live his life for the Lord. The entire concept of justification is one we as Christians have a hard time understanding. If you think it’s easy, you look to lightly upon what has been done for you. We’ve been set free from the bondage of sin by the blood of Jesus Christ. Every time we’re confronted with the urge to sin, or commit the act, Jesus looks us in the eyes (just as the priest did for Valjean) and says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death…For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:1-2, 5-6, ESV) We then need to move forward, not looking back on who we used to be and what we used to do, but pressing on towards our higher calling in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:14).
There are a few other examples of how impactful grace and mercy can be on someone’s life. Again, Valjean was shown grace and mercy in his theft of the priest’s silver. At another time in his life, his nemesis, Javert (who’s been hunting Valjean for years for breaking the terms of his parole) was to be executed for being a spy. Valjean saved Javert’s life by setting him free. It would have been very easy to kill Javert and end the worry of being hunted. Yet Valjean became the man the priest challenged him to become. He wasn’t about to take advantage of the mercy shown to him. He took every advantage to allow others to experience what he had. Valjean also saved a man from being crushed by a horse cart, setting aside his prestigious status amongst the community. He cared for Fantine (a down and out single mother, who turned to prostitution to make money for her daughter Cosette). Valjean found value in her life apart from her circumstances. C.S. Lewis once stated, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding life so satisfactory that they can’t turn to God: the proud & self-righteous are in that danger.” Valjean saw this in both Fantine and in Javert. In her sorrow, Fantine found hope in someone who showed her love and care. In his pride, Javert found despair and loneliness when he couldn’t handle the mercy shown to him.
Ultimately, there is freedom in Christ! Valjean found freedom from his selfish life in which he did all he needed to do according to his desires and circumstances. He found freedom from sin. Fantine found freedom from her circumstances in the hope given to her by her “savior”. Her daughter Cosette found freedom from her emotional abuse at the hands of her foster parents when Valjean took her under his wing and became her father. The revolutionaries were fighting for freedom from the oppressive tyranny of the government. Whatever your circumstances, Jesus is offering you freedom to live in righteousness. He tells us in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” You are not obligated to live as a slave to your sin. You are obliged to receive the free gift of salvation in Christ the Lord, and live victoriously over sin and death.
Prior to Christ, you are just another number. Jean Valjean was known by his inmate identification number, 24601. That’s how Javert recognized him. He was known by his sin. He was identified by what he had done. Satan doesn’t care about your identity. His sole purpose is to distract you from the Lord. Yet, life in Christ insure’s your true identity be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Jesus knows you by name. Our struggle in this life is to fight against the temptations of this world. To fight against the schemes of the devil who desires to entrap you in a life of sin, moving you further and further away from God’s glory. This struggle in beautifully articulated through the song, Who Am I? Valjean’s internal struggle with the knowledge that a man is being condemned for his crimes. What should he do? As he declares, “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!” If he speaks up, he’ll once again be condemned to prison. However, if he stays silent, he’s damned to live with the knowledge that an innocent man took his place. This is the real life struggle as a Christian to live and speak your faith. The simple thing to do is “hoard” God’s grace for yourself. All too often, we do this as Christians. We view others as Javert viewed Valjean. He saw him as one who broke the law and needed to be brought to justice. Christians have the tendency to view non-Christians in this same way. We see them as living in sin and that one day, they’ll stand before the Lord in judgement. Rather, should we not show those who don’t know the Lord the same love, grace, and mercy that God showed to us (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8). We need to not fear that the world will condemn us for what we believe in (John 15:18). We are not to fear, but to live boldly, proclaiming the gospel in all we do and say. You may be the example of grace that someone needs to see.
Finally, we as Christians, need to keep fighting. We need to keep our focus on what God has called us to do. We live to serve Him, period. In one of the final songs of the movie, One Day More, the ensemble cast declares that there is more to life’s struggles. There is always another day to live. Valjean sings, “One day more, another day, another destiny, this never ending road to Calvary; These men who seem to know my crime will surely come a second time, One day more…” When you are set free in Christ, Satan will do all in his power to dissuade you by exposing your sin before your eyes. He’ll remind you of past sins. He’ll put temptation before you. Yet our role in Christ is made clear in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus made this very clear to Peter and the other disciples. We must keep our eyes on the prize. Life will throw all kinds of obstacles, challenges, temptations, and struggles in your face. We have got to keep our focus on the cross.
“But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.'” ~ Matthew 16:23-27
Les Miserables can be translated as The Miserable, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims. Doesn’t this title greatly define who are apart from Christ? Without Christ, we are hopeless. We need Him to live. We need Him to survive. Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus (etched on the Statue of Liberty), lets us know who we are and what we need. Jesus is speaking to us: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 2 Corinthians lets us know where to find hope. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Les Miserables is just a broadway production, and now an incredible movie. Whether it will stand the test of time and be remembered in generations to come has yet to be seen. Yet it has served as a valid reminder to me to live my faith. To live as God intended. He did not send His only Son to die for my sins so that I could live selfishly. I am to show others what Jesus exemplified in His life. Forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, self-control, and ultimately love for God and love for others. This is the gospel. This is our mission.
Will you deny yourself more in 2013? Will you commit to live and speak Jesus to those that need Him?