SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen/heard/read Les Misérables, be aware that I give away some of the plot below.
Every time the gospel is preached, hearts are changed. Guaranteed. When the grace of God is proclaimed to humanity, people will walk away changed in one of two ways. First, when people encounter the grace of God, they may (by God’s grace) respond favorably to the invitation. Breath is breathed into dry bones (Ezek. 37) and the heart of stone is melted (Ezek. 36). Second, the proclamation of the gospel may lead to hardening of one’s heart. The rejection of the gospel can lead to the hardening of one’s heart.
In the book/musical/movie Les Misérables, these two different reactions are clearly portrayed in the characters of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. Near the beginning of the movie, Valjean is offered freedom from prison by a wonderful act of grace from a priest. Near the end of the movie, Javert is offered his life by Valjean.
This contrast is made most strongly in the musical version of this story. The same tune/song are sung by Valjean and Javert after their respective encounters with grace, with vastly different results.
The lyrics from the two songs:
Jean Valjean’s Soliloquy
What have I done sweet Jesus? What have I done?
Become a thief in the night? Become a dog on the run?
Have I fallen so far and is the hour so late?
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate?
The cries in the dark that nobody hears?
Here where I stand at the turning of the years
If there’s another way to go, I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number, murdered Valjean
When the chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread
Yet why did I allow that man, to touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust, he called me “brother”
My life he claims for God above. Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me
Take an eye for an eye, turn your heart into stone
This is all I have lived for, this is all I have known
One word from him and I’d be back, beneath the lash upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I had a soul. How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?
I am reaching but I fall, and the night is closing in
As I stare into the void, to the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world, from the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now! Another story must begin!!!
Who is this man? What sort of devil is he?
To have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last to put a seal on my fate
Wipe out the past and wash me clean off the slate!
All it would take was a flick of his knife
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!
Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!
How can I now allow this man To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom I have hunted
He gave me my life, he gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand!
It was his right.
It was my right to die as well
Instead I live, but live in hell!
And my thoughts fly apart
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?
And must I now begin to doubt
Who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so?
I am reaching, but I fall and the stars are black and cold.
As I stare into the void of a world that cannot hold
I’ll escape now from the world from the world of Jean Valjean
There is nowhere I can turn there is no way to go on…..
The response is seen immediately after these songs: Valjean lives a life of gratitude in response to this offering of grace, but Javert is unable to understand this grace, hardens his heart and commits suicide.
When we hear the good news of God’s grace, let us respond as Jean Valjean, and not as Javert.