Reflections on Les Mis
Have you seen Les Mis? If you haven’t and don’t know anything about it then this post won’t make sense. Otherwise, here are my short and as of now completely haphazard theological reflections on the movie. To make clear, I did like the movie, a lot. Here are some of the theological underpinnings it was making me reflect on though. Again, apologies for the haphazard nature of these, but hope you enjoy.
Valjean lives by grace, Javert lives the by the Law. Javert says something along the lines of “once a sinner, always a sinner” and recognizes that Valjean should be condemned. Most people see this as lacking in mercy and as Javert just being someone who is hardened by the law and his own self-righteous piety. While this is true, I think that there is also a strong sense in which Javert is right in this sentiment. Justice must be impartial.
But then what Javert/the story needs is a mediator who makes mercy possible by taking upon himself the punishment of justice. Valjean understands mercy; Javert doesn’t, but while the themes of grace and mercy and wonderfully presented, both characters fall short in respective ways. Javert lacks mercy (but has impartial justice), Valjean lacks true justice (but has mercy). There is no character who upholds them both (thus the bar of the law/justice is lowered and not upheld and mercy is thus in danger of being sentimentalized).
In the Bible/in reality, God’s justice is impartial and renders to each according to their works (Rom. 2:6). This is why the justice of God is revealed/displayed in his wrath being shown against the unrighteous (Rom 1:16-18). God is right to judge sinners (Rom 2:2) and thus uphold his justice, which is a part of his character. Both justice and mercy must be upheld, and having mercy without justice is in danger of sentimentalizing mercy at the expense of upholding justice.
Random other thoughts:
Javert: “You will starve again unless you learn the meaning of the law.”
Valjean: “I know the meaning of those 19 years, a slave of the law.” Thus Valjean understands the Law experientially; Javert only gets it by thinking himself to have kept it.
Also, Javert=the Law embodied. Strict, never-ending justice must be shown. Again, he is in one sense a mean brute; but in a theological sense quite right here. (though he himself has of course not upheld the law). But he and the story lack a mediator who is both just and justifier and thus allows him to show mercy that is more than sentimental (Rom 3:26).
Alright, random thoughts are over. Agree? Disagree?