Thursday, April 19, 2012

Javert's Choice

   A well-dressed man paces up and down in his office.  He wears a dark button-down jacket, slacks and shiny black boots.  The police officer had just left.

   "He thinks that man is me; he knew him at a glance.  That stranger he has found...this man could be my chance.  Why should I save his hide, why should I right this wrong?  When I have traveled for so long, and struggled for so long?  If I speak, I am condemned.  If I stay silent, I am damned!"

   My wife and I sat, witnessing a man under a great burden.  The mayor of the city walking back and forth, debating to himself whether or not to allow an innocent man suffer for the crime he himself had committed.  The passion, the struggle, and the desire to see a past finally resolved without any sacrifice on his part.  Jean Valjean had an out.  But in the end, he confesses to the crimes he once committed, much to the policeman's joy.  Javert had finally caught the criminal he had hunted for years.

   Les Miserable remains one of my favorite musicals.  There are so many themes represented.  Love. Penance. Justice. Greed. Hope. Brotherhood.  A small minority fighting against a strong yet corrupt government.  I'm looking forward to Hugh Jackman playing Jean Valjean in the upcoming musical/movie; Jackman's an incredible and talented actor and would be perfect for the role.

   But something always struck me about the conflict between Jean Valjean and Javert.  It was pointed out to me by a friend a few months after I saw the stage production.  Jean Valjean and Javert represented two facets of God's character, love and justice.

   Yes...yes...this is a spoiler alert.  See the movie with Liam Neison if you have to.

   After Jean Valjean steals some silver candlesticks early in the story, a bishop charges him to become an honest man.  Carrying the candlesticks throughout his life (like carrying his own cross), Jean Valjean becomes a man of grace and compassion.  He commits to fulfilling the wish of a dying prostitute to look after her young daughter.  He saves the life of a young man who would most likely take the love of his life away.  And Valjean actually spares the life of his life-long nemesis, Javert.

   Javert, on the other hand, lives life with an iron fist.  He was born in a prison, and had dedicated his life as a policeman to bring every criminal to justice.  His passion for capturing Jean Valjean was born out of a love for the law.  And he lived out his commission to the letter of the law.  In the end, Javert just couldn't see the dual existence of mercy -as extended by Jean Valjean - and the strong, secure force of justice he lived by.  Only one could survive in his view.

   I think many people have that view of God.  They point to the Old Testament of the bible as evidence of a righteous God, one who poured out His wrath on people and upheld justice.  Then they turn and look at Jesus in the New Testament and say, "Well, I'd rather believe in that God who was kind and sacrificial and forgiving."  Yet, the book of Hosea in the Old Testament relates God's unrelenting love for people of Israel, continuing to be faithful to a people who chased after other gods and turned their back on Him.  And Jesus spent 1/3 of his parables teaching about judgement.

People think it's an either/or situation.  But the God of the bible is full of justice and love...and more.

   I personally believe God's bigger than most people believe.  He's personal and He's sovereign.  He's there while we sleep, and yet holds gravity, physics, and the whole universe in His hand.  He's love.  He's righteous.  He's fatherly.  He's tender.  He's just.  He's fair.  He can burn with anger.  All at the same time.  The place this is most evident is the cross.  God's demand for justice was satisfied when Jesus took on our sins at the cross.  Love was displayed in that God provided a way for forgiveness.  A barrier was brought down so we could become children of God.

   But maybe "fair" wasn't played out at the cross.  We all deserved death because of how we've hurt others and God in this life.  We deserved the punishment of being separated from God forever.  Instead, He provided a way out.  Jesus took our place for the crime we had committed.

"For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to verious lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for all people appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy..."

   The only sacrifice we have to make, to accept God's gift that we never deserved, is the sacrifice of our pride.  To put our trust in Jesus.  For those who cling to the fact that God is just, they have the cross.  For those who cling to the fact that God is love, they too have the cross.  Every one of us is in need of the forgiveness that was extended through that cross.

   I'm sorry Javert couldn't see that, even though he was a fictional character.  But hopefully, we can.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of it's suffering I do drink
Of it's work I do sing

For on it my Savior, both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

At the cross you beacon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I am sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You've called me out of death
You've called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I'm reconciled

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness
(lyrics by Jeremy Riddle)

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