Les Miserables

Les Miserables    

You simply must see the film-version of the musical sensation, Les Miserables.  It is a magnificent rendering of a magnificent musical that is based upon a magnificent novel by 19th Century French writer Victor Hugo.  The film does Hugo proud.    

I have watched and enjoyed the 1935 Hollywood production, featuring Frederic March and Charles Laughton.  I am conversant, too with the 1952 film version starring Michael Rennie and Robert Newton, as well as the 1992 production with Liam Neeson.

[There were also two other film versions:  A French production in 1960 and a 1978 television movie made by CBS, but I can’t comment, not having seen them; they were, no doubt, faithful and responsible adaptations].    

This one, though, offers a brilliant blend of musical with film production.  It captures the sordid horror of human anguish awash in loneliness and indifference, but also the nobility of individuals who have been touched by the grace of God.  

It captures so many juxtapositions:  17th Century French commentator Blaise Pascal observed that man is half-angel and half-beast, a sentiment that is embodied by Les Miserables to an accentuated degree.  There is gentleness and brutality, self-absorption and self-denial, lust and love, malevolent exploitation and benevolent renderings of service – Ultimately, there is the hard and unswerving nature of Law and the sweetness and refreshment of Grace.  Law exacts from us but grace expends for us.

It is a most Christian notion, coming from a very Christian novel.  One can’t get more Christian than the Bible, so I here quote from one of its more memorable passages:

“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourelves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin?  Absolutely not!  If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.  For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:15-21).

We learn at least two significant things about our relations to the law of God:  One, observance of the law does not by itself place us in right standing with God.  We might as well do hand-stands while applying for a juggling act at a carnival.  The one manifests skill, but not quite the skill required for the job.  We are banking on apples when what are at issue are oranges.  The one is not negated, but the other is required.
Scripture gives us clearly to understand that it is not us but God who “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14).

Second, Christ need never have died if we could be saved by keeping the law.  What would have been the point of it?  His death would have been a colossal and cosmic waste.

I have often compared Christ’s Calvary-directed trajectory to that of the American troops who crossed the Atlantic to redeem Europe from the Nazis.  President Roosevelt would surely have found another way, if indeed there were one, to defeat Adolf Hitler than by sending millions of American troops into harm’s way.  And wouldn’t God the Father have found another way, if indeed there were one, than by sending Christ to die in our stead.  All roads do not lead to Rome, and certainly not to heaven!  

We learn, too, a couple of significant things about grace.  First, God’s grace is embodied and procured through Jesus.  He is the “instrument,” if you will, by whom and through whom we are offered and may receive God’s approval and fellowship.

The Apostle John commented succinctly when he wrote that “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16, 17).  

Second, we make waste of His precious sacrifice if we set aside God’s grace and strive for His approval through observance of the law.  There was a pithy maxim that made the rounds some years ago that said that the mind was a terrible thing to waste.  Agreed, but it should be felonious before God’s bar of justice to waste the blood of the Lamb!  We accomplish nothing and lose everything!

It is sad that often Christians are perceived as being legalists and kill-joys.  One hears many jokes about guilt-ridden Catholics or guilt-driving Baptist preachers.  But aren’t we called to be a people of grace?

Grace doesn’t permit us to sin; instead, it enables us to become intimately acquainted with and to lovingly obey God, and it commissions us to be redemptive agents to others.  Grace is the air we breathe, the substance of our lives and the commodity that we project.

The idea is not to condemn (as we weren’t condemned, because He chose to graciously redeem us rather than allow the law to rigidly condemn us).  Paul extols the value and virtues of the Cross when he writes:

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, having nailed it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).
The correct idea, rather, is to illuminate:  We are the light of God, making transparent the sins that corrode and corrupt, and making real the love of God that restores and refreshes.  Those who have received God’s grace ardently and actively share His grace with others.

It should be clear that His grace should be of paramount importance to our lives; hence, to our consciousness.  His Word speaks of God’s abundant provision of grace, a grace that increases even when our sin increases (Romans 5:17-20).  God’s grace is, bluntly stated, greater than all of our sin!

I have learned this amidst my own sordid side.  He has even taken my sin and made use of it, as He is loth to waste anything.  I didn’t say He justified or even overlooked my sin, as I still paid a price for it and as His discipline was still applied, but His grace had more with which to work.  He is wise and all-knowing in His wisdom – That makes Him a genius, creatively and astutely taking something bad and turning it into something good.

We are told, too, that He lavished the riches of His grace upon us with all wisdom and understanding through Christ’s shed blood and for the forgiveness of our sins (Ephesians 1:7).  Our most repulsive reality was trumped by God’s most stunning sacrifice.

Hence, we are exhorted not to receive the grace of God in vain ((2 Corinthians 6:1); positively, we are urged to be strong in God’s grace (2 Timothy 2:1) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).  

Grace is not optional, nor is it to be treated lightly.  Grace came at great cost and carries us to great things, even to eternal life (2 Thessalonians 2:16 and Titus 2:11).  It is unquestionable that God is big on working His “surpassing grace” is us:

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:  ‘He has scattered abroad His gifts to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.’ … Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 11, 14, 15).

God is magnificent; is He not?  There isn’t another God like Him in the entire universe.  How are we expressions of His grace in our daily lives?  Do we see His glory beyond our noses?  Do we see it at work with us?  Can others catch even a glimpse through us?

I know a man who felt abandoned and unloved as a child, a sentiment that shadowed him throughout life.  God has been graciously-disposed towards him, for he has become like a father to many believers.

I know a woman who found herself in relationships that cast her as the “other” woman, from which she bore three children out-of-wedlock.  God was graciously-disposed towards her and, as she entrusted herself wholly to Him, He raised her up and made her a source of Christ’s love and wisdom to many.

I know a man who was told that he was good for nothing and destined for hell.  He nearly killed himself with drugs and found himself on a hospital gurney with an outlandish fever.  God was graciously-disposed towards him, raising him up to be esteemed by many, sowing the goodness and mercy of Christ to many.  He is destined for heaven, even as he points the way there with his life.

I know a man who was awash in poor self-esteem, always the last to be selected for team sports, and fearful amongst his peers.  God was graciously-disposed towards him, grounding him in the confidence of Christ, drawing forth from him a natural gregariousness and raising him up to be a servant-leader to His people.

It is true what the Scripture says:  “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power will rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).

Our magnificent God doesn’t call to be the Miserable Ones, which is often what we show ourselves to be; becoming myopic and fleshly if we aren’t careful with our Christianity, utilizing our faith as a crutch but failing to be faithful to our high calling.

We are called to be Les Magnificentes:  Ambassadors of our magnificent God who make a vital difference in this world that Christ has come to save.  Hollywood may not make a movie about us, but all will reckon with Him we serve and to whom we bear witness!

Bradley E. Lacey
February 17, 2013