Monday, June 25, 2012

A Grace Deferred

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityToday a guest post from Josh Kiel about the response to grace in Les Miserables.  And a reminder that if you want to write a post on whatever topic interests you, feel free.  I want this to be an open community for sharing and working things out together.  Enjoy!


 by Josh Kiel

Grace is a gift that is neither earned nor expected.  When it’s given to us it seems incomprehensible and rightfully so since absolute preemptive forgiveness is an illogical response to transgression.  We have all received grace but to what extent do we actually accept and embrace it?  In Les Miserables (1998 movie) the characters of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert demonstrate two opposing responses to grace, those of accepting and rejecting that gift

When Valjean is set free at the word of the Bishop in the beginning of the film he is at first unable to understand the act responding, "Why are you doing this?".  After the Bishop explains his action and we see the development of Valjean as a new man he offers an explanation of his understanding of grace to Fantine.  Valjean says that as a part of Gods creation, "In His eyes, you have never been anything but an innocent".  Valjean and the Bishop demonstrate the ideals of how grace should be accepted and expressed in return. 

Ideals are not often met however and for an opposing response we have Inspector Javert.  In one instance when he is offered grace and commanded to forgive himself by The Mayor (Valjean) he responds with, "You must punish me or my life will have been meaningless".  His view is reiterated at the end when he states, "it's a pity the rules don't allow me to be merciful, I've tried to live my life without breaking a single rule".  Javert eventually gives into a single expression of grace by letting Valjean go, but is unable to extend that grace to himself for breaking the rules and commits suicide.

How we accept grace influences how we respond to it.  Growing up, I had the mistaken understanding that to be a Christian meant a continual effort to live a perfect life and that every time I would fail to live up to that standard meant that I'd failed to be a Christian.  In essence I was Javert.  Living as a slave to the rules and subject to the same despair and self-inflicted mental anguish as if actually receiving punishment.  Since I couldn't correctly comprehend grace for myself I didn't correctly apply it to the people around me.  I would in my mind "forgive" them for a particular transgression, but still resent them as the kind of person who would do the thing I had “forgiven” them for.  It was not until I turned my back on God and then returned that I fully understood that grace was not something that I could earn nor was it something that I needed to worry about questioning, but simply something I needed to accept.

As Christians we are called to be conduits of God’s grace and love. In accepting that grace for ourselves we are told to then extend it to others.  We are called to the opposite of Javert’s dilemma.  Since we have been shown mercy we should show mercy in return.  Javert was conflicted because of his role as an instrument of the law.  He was not allowed to be merciful. As Christians we are instruments of grace and therefore have no choice, but to have mercy.  Living in the mindset of that reality we can move towards expressing grace as the ideal demonstrated by the Bishop and Jean Valjean.

We can show grace to others without expecting it in return, but among Christians there exists the potential for an additional level of the freedom given by grace.  Among Christians there can be the anticipation of grace between each other that could allow us to be transparent and open with each other.  In this anticipation we should be free to be open and honest with each other so that conflict would always be short lived among the communities we form and that grace can be an ever present reality of our interactions.

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