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Les Miserables – The True Meaning of God’s Love and Forgiveness

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By Karl Faase, Eternity Newspaper, Feb. 25, 2013

Les Miserables won three Academy Awards today, including Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anne Hathaway), Best Sound Mixing and Best Make-Up and Hair Styling. But it’s not Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway who play the stories most pivotal role. Karl Faase explores the most important role in Les Miserable, and how he is connected to the true meaning of Easter.

Les Miserables was first published in 1862 in France, written by the great French poet and writer Victor Hugo. The book is pseudo historical, based around the society and political upheavals in France in 1800’s. Victor Hugo was not a fan of the Catholic Church in France. He believed the church was failing the people of France and that most clergy and church hierarchy were more interested in their own position and relationship with French nobility then they were with the parlous state of the French people.

Yet even with this view of the church and the clergy he decides to make a Catholic Bishop the pivotal character to change the life of the newly released prisoner after 19 years of hard labour, Jean Valjean. In the book Les Miserables, which is 1400 pages in length in the English translation, Victor Hugo takes the first 100 pages to develop the character of the Bishop. Here is a clergy man committed to the community and the needy. When he is made Bishop of Digne after a chance meeting with Napoleon, he moves into the Bishop residency but can’t remain there. The Bishop sees that his large mansion is next to a small hospital overflowing with patients and lacking space. The Bishop promptly moves out of the residence and into a smaller space to allow the hospital to use his residence for patients.

Over this first section of the book Hugo paints a picture of a Bishop committed to people and the needs of the community. When the pivotal scene arrives in the book, the bishop’s behavior is unsurprising. In the musical and the movie where we only meet the Bishop for a brief moment, it may seem rather unusual. The recently paroled Jean Valjean comes to the Cathedral of Digne looking for help and the Bishop offers food and a bed for the night. Valjean is desperate and, seeing the expensive silverware, can’t help himself. He steals a bag full of silver and runs. That night, he is caught with the stolen goods and dragged back to the Bishop. One word from the Bishop and Jean Valjean would be sent back to prison. But the Bishop tells the police he gave Valjean the silverware and more – he had left without the large candlesticks. In the musical and movie, once the police are gone, the Bishops speaks to Valjean:

But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the passion and the blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!

Watch the Official Trailer below or click on this link.

This act of forgiveness and grace changes Valjean, who becomes a successful businessman and dispenser of grace to others throughout the story.

When the book was published, Victor Hugo’s adult children complained that he had made the Bishop the central figure and hero of the plot: Why give the church credibility, why raise the possibility of a kind & forgiving cleric? Why not make the hero a lawyer or doctor? Yet Hugo stuck with the Bishop and for good reason.

Forgiveness is beyond a human action or attitude. What changed Valjean in Hugo’s story? The divine act of grace, the forgiveness of God, the action of giving someone a fresh start which is beyond a human action.

Victor Hugo seemed to grasp the meaning of Easter, the essence of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is not just a good example or moral act of the person of Jesus in history. This is the act of God forgiving, releasing people into new life, new faith and a fresh start.

What Jean Valjean needed to overcome his anger at life and rage against society was an act of grace from a stranger. It changed his view of the world and his actions in the future. We all need the same grace and forgiveness to change us.

Christian faith is not humanity chasing after God; it is God reaching out to humanity. This is most obviously demonstrated in Jesus and his death and resurrection at Easter.

This is your chance to accept Gods love, forgiveness and grace. It’s the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning. Why not take up the offer of grace today.

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