I recently completed reading Les Miserables and found that it highlighted some fundamental truths about life in general and the Christian Life specifically that are worth sharing.
Jean Valjean, the main character of the book, accepted Jesus Christ as Lord shortly after his release from prison. Jean was not an evil man when he went to prison, but his experience there made him bitter against humanity. This made him spiritually capable of committing almost any evil act, including stealing from a child. After his conversion, Hugo paints Jean Valjean as an ideal Christian – kind, gentle, and generous, even to those who are the lowest of the low in society, such as a penniless prostitute.
The problem that Jean faced was the fact that, although his heart had been transformed from evil to good by the power of Christ, it was still he who had committed crimes that, in his age, were punishable by a long imprisonment. In the end Valjean decided not to continue running from who he was. His decision was to face the human judgment that was coming to him.
There are many Christians who have a similar story to Jean Valjean. We did things before we were saved that make us ashamed or embarrassed. Maybe we did something that was illegal. The fact is that there are people out there that know who we were before we were Christ’s and those people may not care that we are living a better life now. Perhaps, like Jean Valjean, we have been blessed with wealth or power. These things will make you a target for those who are greedy or envious and you may have to give up the things of the world to show your complete submission to God.
Les Miserables is filled with political commentary on the French criminal justice system and society’s treatment of the poor. Most reviewers talk about this and say that Hugo provides a glimmer of hope in this pit of despair. What most miss is that the form of this hope is kindness and gentleness of Jean Valjean, which is the result of Christ living through him. Whether it is his adoption of Cosette, or saving the man pinned under his heavy cart, Hugo shows us how the life of the ideal Christian should impact the lives of all around him or her. Jean Valjean demonstrates the principle of loving his enemy by sparing the life of Javert, the man who had hounded him ceaselessly.
Very few people will argue that Les Miserables is not a classic piece of literature. However, it really is a classic piece of Christian literature. It is written to demonstrate the change that Christ will make in your life and the impact that Christ will have on the world through you.
My only problem with the book is how at Jean Valjean’s death, and other places in the book, he glorifies the man who led him to Christ, rather than Christ Himself, which may reflect the fact that Hugo was a Catholic like most people of France at the time. Though of theological importance, this flaw does not detract much from the pleasure of reading this classic.