In one of the world’s great stories of redemption, Les Miserables captures hearts and minds. We are caught up in the story of Jean ValJean, saved from himself by a priest who exhibits the pure love of God and offers ValJean a new lease on life. Our hearts ache for Fantine who will do whatever it takes to get a little money to provide for her beloved daughter, Cosette and rejoice as their lives intertwine.
Don’t we just love to hate Javert, the inspector intent on seeing justice done. “But it’s the law!” cries Javert, who seems to delight in a 19-year prison sentence for the “crime” of stealing some bread to keep a family alive. Whether it’s through reading the book, seeing a Broadway production or being wrapped up in the raw emotion on the silver screen, don’t we all see the flaws in Javert’s incessant pursuit of ValJean, a pursuit that ultimately destroys him?
But, oh, how often we ARE Javert – and we don’t even see it. Are we unwilling to forgive? Are we too caught up in 100% adherence to “the law”, no matter how ill-conceived or simply wrong that law may be? Is there room in our hearts for mercy? Compassion? And yes, forgiveness? We all want to be the hero of the story, of course, but I wonder – are we really more like Inspector Javert?
It plays out in the political world time and time again. When I was in the legislature a couple of years ago, it boggled my mind to see some of my colleagues demand 100% adherence to a frankly broken immigration law and AT THE SAME time post pictures of their own outright defiance to laws deemed “stupid” – and then not seeing one bit of irony or hypocrisy in that. I can tell you for me, I like leniency when it comes to speed limits. I think they’re more like the pirate code – a set of suggestions, really. (Now I will be super careful to follow the speed limit…..for at least a month –
er, week, all right – today and tomorrow, maybe.)
Think about it. Do you see Javert in the political arena? I do. I see him in the immigration discussion ALL THE TIME. I see him in the gun debate that is heating up right now. I believe that even the debt ceiling “discussion” in two months will have its Javerts. On a local level, we have – wait for it….wait for it…. – licensure for braiding hair, with accompanying cease and desist letters for those who refuse to comply. (There’s more – did you know it’s illegal in Utah to massage a horse without a license. I’m drop-dead serious.) In fact, the list is probably endless….. There is no question we are a nation of laws – but we should become a nation of Javerts.
Not only is Javert intent on demanding 100% obedience to THE LAW but he will not and cannot forgive. Forgiveness does not mean turning a blind eye, ignoring problems or giving a free pass. It does mean freedom. Freedom from anger, from hatred, from darkness. Corrie Ten Boom, famous Holocaust survivor and author said this: “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” It’s more about the forgiver than the forgiven.
The Bishop in Les Miserables knew that. Jean ValJean learned it. Javert never did. I know for me, I will be working on ridding myself of Javert and embracing more of the good Bishop. I invite you to do the same.