les misérables and the force of grace

I’ve seen the Les Misérables movie twice three times now.  I know all the words to the musical (I was a stellar chorus member in high school) and I was not disappointed with the movie.  This story is so powerful.  I’ll probably have something to say about revolutionaries quite soon (ugh!), but what most impressed me was the way that the movie didn’t shy away from the central message.  In Les Mis, I’ve hardly seen a more beautiful depiction of the gospel, especially in its most baffling component – grace.

The entire story tracks the lives of its central characters, weaving in and out of different people’s stories, and it can get confusing.  But grace and mercy are the threads that tie them all together as the story continues, and Hugo shows that even though we may want to ignore it sometimes, grace refuses to stay passive.  Each time, it becomes a crossroad of the most dramatic and life-changing proportions.

The bishop is the first man who has shown Valjean any grace in a long time.  When the bishop welcomes Valjean into his home, the man is taken aback, stunned, and shouts out that he’s a dangerous convict – an outcast.  Instead of treating him as such, the bishop looks at Valjean as a friend, calling him brother.  This simple kindness causes an uproar in Valjean’s soul as he struggles with whether or not he should steal the bishop’s silver.  There is an entire chapter in the novel that compares the torment of the convict’s soul with a drowning man, saying that “the soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse.  Who shall resuscitate it?”  Reminiscent of Romans 7:24, Valjean’s hardened heart can only be softened by God’s power.  Valjean is a dangerous man because he has allowed hate to rule him, and when he is presented with love, he cannot accept it.  He steals the silver, effectively choosing imprisonment forever.

But.

The bishop pardons him, claiming that the stolen goods were a gift.  If the welcome into the bishop’s home was inconceivable, Valjean is now presented with the most life changing paradigm shift of his entire existence.  It is grace unbound.  He deserved imprisonment and death, and the bishop handed him love and life.  He was emancipated by this mercy.  He did not get what he deserved.  Grace forces a decision on Valjean, a stark contrast between life and death.  And he chooses life.

After being shown grace, Valjean effectively becomes a carrier, pouring the same love out into the town of which he becomes the mayor.  And then he meets Fantine, who has fallen so far from the beautiful, innocent girl that she was into a dying, miserable woman who has turned to prostitution in order to support her daughter.  She, too, has let hatred worm its way into her heart, and she despises Valjean for letting her be driven away from his factory.

Inspector Javert, the man ruled entirely by Law and not at all by gospel, is about to imprison Fantine when Valjean comes in to pardon her and take her to the hospital.  He becomes the agent of grace to the dying woman, offering her a choice.  And this action astonishes both Fantine and Javert:

“Javert felt that he was on the verge of going mad.  He experienced at that moment, blow upon blow and almost simultaneously, the most violent emotions which he had ever undergone in all his life… When he beheld that mayor, that magistrate, calmly wipe his face and say, “Set this woman at liberty,” he underwent a sort of intoxication of amazement”

Javert is shaken; however, he does not waver.  He resolidifies into the man of law that he was before, putting his shock aside.  Fantine, however, lets herself be repossessed by grace.

“Had she, then, been mistaken? Must she change her whole soul? She did not know; she trembled.  She listened in bewilderment, she looked on in affright, and at every word uttered by M. Madeleine (Valjean) she felt the frightful shades of hatred crumble and melt within her, and something warm and ineffable, indescribable, which was both joy, confidence, and love, dawn in her heart.”

Although Fantine dies, she has chosen life as well.  She had pleaded to die instead of her daughter, and this exchange of grace and life carries through.  Valjean shows grace to her daughter, Cosette, literally buying her out of bondage to the Thenardiers and raising her into newness of life.  Cosette innocently accepts the gift.

Grace changes the lives of all of these characters in a radical way, but it is a gift that must be received in order to be effective.  It forces a choice between death and life, but not everyone can choose to live in a radically changed world.

Least of all Javert.

I’ve heard people criticize the policeman for being overdramatic, but can you imagine what he goes through when Valjean sets him at liberty?  Javert feels as though he is going mad when he simply witnesses Valjean giving Fantine her freedom – how on earth could he rationally comprehend his state when Valjean, a convict and a sinner, shows grace to Javert himself, giving him back his very life?  The seams of Javert’s world begin to rip apart, and everything that he once knew is turned inside out.  Every paradigm that he had relied on in his life has burst apart, crumbling.  Javert’s world is ordered and clean, black and white, and in it, everyone receives what he deserves.  For him, there are no “minor sins”.  He leaves no room for grace in his adherence to the law, but yet, it finds him.

Javert’s world has been irrevocably destroyed.  Before, he could try to ignore grace, but now that it has been given directly and obviously to him, he cannot pretend that nothing has changed.  He must “stare into the void / Of a world that cannot hold” and choose between the desolation of what he knows and a new, very different, life.  He must choose, more literally than any other character, between life and death.

Because he cannot deal with the world as grace has colored it, he kills himself, choosing to leave it behind forever.

Javert and Valjean are not so different, really.  They both wanted to serve God.  While Valjean was consumed by hatred, Javert let legalism take over his soul.  They both were shown grace in part, and then in its full glory.  But Valjean had the strength to follow God’s path, and Javert, while telling himself that he was following the Lord, followed his own humanity into death.  When Valjean leaps into the river to escape Javert, it is a baptism.  When Javert does the same to escape Valjean, it is death by water.

I think that we forget how powerful a thing grace is.  It’s either life-altering or life-destroying.  It is a force to be reckoned with, and yet, we take it for granted every day.  We deserved to die, and Jesus showed us his pardon, setting us at liberty and raising us from death to life.  “You are free,” He tells us, like Valjean, “and there are no conditions”.  Well, that’s not entirely true – He has traded places with us, giving up His life.

How will we respond? We cannot ignore it.  We must either accept this gift in love and let it transform our lives and our very selves, or we must throw it aside and choose to die instead.  We cannot live as we had before.  We must return the favor by giving Him our lives.

This is the heart of Les Misérables, and I love seeing the ripple effect of grace as it reaches each person.  Valjean is showed grace and then shows it to others.  This is a perfect picture of how Christians should live their lives every day.  We have been shown grace by someone even more wonderful than the bishop of Digne, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.  We continue to pass it on, mimicking God’s grace in the lives of others so that they too can show grace to the people they encounter.  It’s beautiful.  And if we truly understand how powerful a movement grace should be, it cannot be kept a pretty secret.

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snow.

Come on, snow!  I want to say.  Keep at it!  Come down harder!  I know the fine flakes aren’t going to stick, though.  The ground reflects something closer to a rain than a snow.  I want to coax the tiny snowflakes to grow into wonderfully fat, fluffy flurries that stick to my hair and coat and eyelashes and pad the rooftops and ground with a pure layer of beauty.

It’s amazing when that happens.  When the snow comes down and completely transforms something that you thought you knew into an alien landscape.  It throws you that the entire world has shifted while you slept, turning everything – sky, earth, the edifices in between – completely blindingly and brilliantly white.

It’s a purification, of sorts, a covering-over of the dirty, sinful world with a layer of glory and transforming it into something new.  It’s a mere shadow of what happens to us.

The beauty of snow makes the cold worthwhile.  If you’re trudging along, fighting the wind with each step and frowning up at the dreary sky, you’re just miserable and cold and sad.  But snow… snow gives you a reason to endure the cold and motivates you to walk onward.

This morning I was thinking of how people pretend(ed) to be dragons when it was cold outside, puffing their wispy breaths into the sky and watching them float away.  I blew steady puffs into the air on my way to class.  Breathe your worst, fiery sentinel, the knight would exclaim, armed to the teeth.  I would smile sympathetically and condescendingly, showing all of my draconian teeth, and reply, I don’t have to.  I would send a gaseous cloud his way, enveloping him in its soporific grasp as he slowly fell asleep, becoming someone else’s problem.  Sleep peacefully, fair hero, I’d murmur.  You’ll have much more to worry about when you awaken.

I think the flakes have grown since I started this.  They have, they definitely have!! That makes me smile as I watch them from inside the library.  Alright.  It’s time to shove down that knee-jerk desire to run around outside screaming “IT’S SNOWING!” while I catch them and look at their shapes.  I have to get some work done.

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I can’t help it.  IT’S SNOWING!  IT REALLY IS, AND IT’S GLORIOUS, AND I THINK IT’S ACTUALLY STICKING THIS TIME, LA LA LA LA I CANNOT EVEN DEAL WITH THIS, THE FLAKES ARE ENORMOUS NOW, I’M GOING TO TAKE A VERY LONG WALK AFTER I DO MY HOMEWORK.

… I apologize.

… Although I’m not terribly sorry.

nothing else matters.

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have beome as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.” Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

Last night, I went to a worship event in another state.  It was sort of a spur of the moment decision, but it was one of the best ones I’ve made in a while.  Clearly, it was a lot of fun, and I got to bond with people, have milkshakes, and be silly afterwards.  But the actual worship was fantastic.

I worry about the same things a lot.  My thoughts cycle through future job woes, how I’m dreadfully undecided, the amount of homework I have, etc.  But, here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter.

Jobs, your future, work, what you’re going to wear, problems in your social life.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best in these things (because of course we should).  But in the long run, they don’t matter at all.  When it comes right down to it, this world will pass, and you and I will pass, and we can’t take anything with us when we are translated over except our souls.

Nothing matters but Jesus, and what he’s done, and who he is, and what he’s sacrificed for us.  He loves us astoundingly, amazingly, in such a way that we can’t even comprehend the volume of his love.  He came to us, even though we don’t deserve it, and gave his very life in order to share it with us.

It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I can’t remember much of the particulars of the worship night.  I don’t remember exactly which songs we sang, or if the band was good, or what the content was exactly of my desperate, fervent, muttered prayers.

But I remember the peace of the God of the universe filling me up until I thought I would overflow or burst or laugh or cry, and I remember God grabbing my heart and refusing to let go.  I remember knowing that he was there, with us, ready to take us in and change us entirely and turn our lives upside down in order to put them back together in a better way that centers completely on Him.

He’s still here with me, now.  And I know that he’s not going to leave.

It doesn’t matter what I end up doing, as long as I’m doing it for Him.  I pray that he’d take away my pride and fallen-ness and fill me up so much with the Holy Spirit that his love would flow out of me and reach those that need him desperately.

I hope I won’t lose sight of what’s important.  And I know I will, at least a little bit.  I still live in this world, and that will distract me.  I have to be refreshed every day and refocus on what truly matters.  But one day, we’ll get there.  One day we will truly understand the weight of God’s glory.

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Read this: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Romans 8 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV )

Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis: http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf  .  I really struggled with finding a quote to start this post off with because every word of this is absolutely amazing.  READ IT!!!

fall and fractals

fractal (ˈfræktəl) —n : a figure or surface generated by successive subdivisions of a simpler polygon or polyhedron, according to some iterative process

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“Malcolm’s voice was no louder than a whisper.  “Everything… looks different… on the other side,” he said.

Harding leaned close to him.  “On the other side?” He thought that Malcolm was talking about dying.

“When… shifts,” Malcolm said.

“Shifts?”

Malcolm didn’t answer.  His dry lips moved.  “Paradigm,” he said finally.

“Paradigm shifts?” Harding said.  He knew about paradigm shifts.  For the last two decades, they had been the fashionable way to talk about scientific change.  “Paradigm” was just another word for a model, but as scientists used it the term meant something more, a world view.  A larger way of seeing the world…

“No,” Malcolm said.  “Not… paradigm… beyond…”

“Beyond paradigm?” Harding said.

“Don’t care about… what… anymore…”

Harding sighed.  Despite all efforts, Malcolm was rapidly slipping into a terminal delirium.  His fever was higher, and they were almost out of his antibiotics.

“What don’t you care about?”

“Anything,” Malcolm said.  “Because… everything looks different… on the other side.”

And he smiled.”

 

I absolutely love Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (the book, of course!)  He talks quite frequently about fractals, chaos, and [you guessed it!]… paradigm shifts!  Yeah, that was him.  🙂

God has made amazing things. I’m in awe of His creation. The simple idea of fall itself, with its changing leaves and fractal-ridden bare trees, is fantastically glorious and made just for us to enjoy.  Every time I see a fractal in nature or think about it, I’m completely overwhelmed at the power, glory, and love of our God.  They’re everywhere, too, in trees, rivers, lightning, and snowflakes.  The dazzling iterations repeat themselves with such perfect mathmatical precision that I cannot help but stand in amazement.  And God just slipped them right into nature, right under our noses, if only to point toward himself and allow us to delight in the beauty that He has created.  He made fractals for His glory and for our happiness.  And that is astounding.

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Read this:  You can read the entire book on the internet!  :O  http://books.google.com/books?id=I79dV_HQvykC&pg=PA384&lpg=PA384&dq=jurassic+park+paradigm+shift&source=bl&ots=3_lzmjKKsw&sig=MzmeB5qoiiWsfoaruKuaq8EiUjI&hl=en&ei=ssPATorgOYzsggfa6My0Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CGgQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

Look at this: http://webecoist.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/