The Theology of Les Miserables (Part 3)

This is Part 3 (of 3).

Part 1 – The Forgiveness of Jean Valjean
Part 2 – The Suffering of Fantine

Movie Poster. Universal Pictures

Movie Poster. Universal Pictures

Spoiler Warning: Like the first two posts, this post contains several spoilers, but you should read it anyway.

As I approach the week point since I’ve seen this movie, I’ve realized I need to hurry and get pen to paper lest I forget the entire movie and leave you waiting until it comes out on DVD for part 3. By then, there will be another French-based musical with Christian undertones to review, and this one will have lost its edge. However, I’m here now to impart to you part three of my review and understanding of the movie, Les Miserables, and how it relates to contemporary Christian theology. If you missed the first two posts, feel free to check the links out above and read them.

In a movie filled with intricate detail, well-embellished symbolism, and excellent execution, two big plot details really stand out for me above the rest. The first is the forgiveness of Jean Valjean that I already touched on, and the second is directly related to the character, Javert, and his pursuit of Jean Valjean as a criminal to lock him up for breaking parole.

les_miserables_Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe as Javert.
Rights belong to Universal Studios

If Bishop Digne represented forgiveness and grace, Javert’s character represents a strong sense of justice. At the beginning of the movie, he was shown as Valjean’s prison guard, and then he later became a policeman. If you remember in my synopsis of Valjean, he tore up his parole papers and changed his name. Despite that he had become a new man, turned over a new leaf, and had begun to contribute positively to society, Javert only knew him as a criminal to be punished. There are several scenes where Javert spews out “once a thief, always a thief” never viewing Valjean as anything other than wicked. Eventually, Javert gets captured by a group of rebels  and is then freed by Valjean who continues to try to show Javert that he has changed. When Javert is put into a position to capture Valjean once more, he reluctantly let’s him go free. Unable to justify this act of grace with his understanding of the law, he commits suicide.

Javert and Valjean come from similar beginnings in the story lines but so quickly diverge. Valjean, accepting of the forgiveness and grace offered to him, moves on to true righteousness where Javert, unable to remove the shackles of the law, is eventually killed by it. Javert represents the daily reality of what many live in each day. The law in Christian theology is not only the set of 633 laws in the Old Testament, but also, it is the understanding that God is pure and holy, and we are not. God created the world perfect, and man*, through his arrogance, ruined it. Man has turned from God. Man has relied on himself. Man has put God last on his set of priorities. God has given us His law to show us how we fall short. James, brother of Jesus, even says “for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) By breaking one sin, man breaks all 633 at once digging himself into one large, large hole. Because God is pure and holy, he cannot stand your sin and the consequence of your sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

You cannot dig yourself out of this. You cannot plead your case. You have been sentenced. This is the state that Javert finds himself in completely shackled, enslaved, and ensnared by the law. He hopes to find comfort in the law, but it only leads him to more trouble. So then what are we to do? Well if you noticed, both Valjean and Javert found themselves shackled to the law (remember Valjean was sentenced to life in prison/death for breaking parole) but where Javert refused an offer of grace, Valjean freely accepted it.

I say that the scene with Bishop Digne was the most important scene in the entire movie because it saved Valjean, not only in a earthly sense where he continued to live, raise a daughter, and die at peace but also in an eternal sense, where he finally understood to what God had called him and was then able to return that love and forgiveness to others (Fantine, Cosette, Marius, and Javert). In this way, we are saved when we accept the grace and forgiveness that only God can offer us, and that comes from Jesus Christ who bought us with his sacrifice on Calvary.

“You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
Romans 6:18

If I could impart a final piece of advice that I’ve understood from this movie, don’t be so quick to separate the secular and the religious, or the Saturday night and Sunday morning. God is literally all around us. Be open to Him and always look for His truth in everything you see, even at the movie theater.

* When I say the word “man,” I am speaking universally across both genders. Men and women are both equal in their sin against God.

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3 responses to “The Theology of Les Miserables (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: The Theology of Les Miserables (Part 1) | A Crown for Ashes·

  2. Pingback: The Theology of Les Miserables (Part 2) | A Crown for Ashes·

  3. Pingback: Les Misérables and Spiritual Portraits « life and building·

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