Why Les Miserables Gives Us Hope: How Grace Triumphs Over Law

Artwork from Les Miserables 2012

Artwork from Les Miserables 2012

Miserable is certainly not the term to be applied to the film Les Miserables. Translated as the miserable, the wretched, the poor ones, or the victims—Les Miserables has been a force of narrative brilliance since its writing in 1862. This film adaptation to the broadway musical is masterful, to say the least. Sobs of sadness and joy could be heart throughout the movie theater, as was the case all over theaters worldwide no doubt.

One may wonder why this film touches so many to the core. A common note is plucked in the hearts of people. And this note gloriously resounds and most majestically resonates in Les Miserables.

Grace triumphs over law.

While there are dozens of themes, the tension of grace and law is palpable. The convict Jean Valjean, released on parole from years of hard labor for the theft of bread, finds himself in the stoop of a minister’s home after being severely mistreated. Seizing the opportunity for an easy bit of coin, Valjean steals this minster’s silver—only to be brought back in shackles by the police. The minister, in an act of love and grace, gives Valjean the costly candlesticks, telling the police that the silver was a gift, a ransoming of this convict from sin and into grace.

This grace marked and changed Valjean for life. In response to this grace, this once criminal now touched all with mercy, even the unrelenting Inspector Javert.

To Javert, law and obedience was both the means to God’s love and the only mode in which the world should operate. No mercy, no grace, exists in the light of the law. Regardless of how miserable the plight of the poor or even the tiniest infraction made, justice must be satisfied—both God’s and Javert’s.

When Valjean inevitable spared Jevert’s life, showing mercy and grace where none should be given or should exist in his mind, Jervert kills himself. He could not live in a world where such grace and mercy exists.

So too might it be said of the law. Obedience to a external code through which value or lack of worth is meted out withers in the light of the total and truly awesome grace and mercy of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Such love and sacrifice is beautiful in all eyes—except lovers of the law. Like Jevert, they look at those forgiven and see injustice, that it is unfair, and that people aren’t getting what “they deserve.” And certainly that person would be right. Grace and mercy are not fair—Christ, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., nor the character Valjean were men of justice. And this grace, mercy, and love is precisely what touches the hearts of those who watch Les Miserables.

Les Miserables is a beautiful reminder of the transforming power of grace and a love.

Grace triumphs over law.


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