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Upon leaving the presence of the bishop, Valjean stumbles around in a stupor, trying to understand what has just happened to him. He is forced to come to a point of decision: to continue in his hardened, sinful ways, or to surrender to the loving grace of God, accept God’s forgiveness, and devote himself to sharing God’s candlesticks and grace with others.
In the musical he finally falls down in prayer and sings, “Sweet Jesus, what have I done? . . . I feel my shame inside me like a knife. He told me that I have a soul. How does he know? What spirit came to move my life? . . . I stare into the void, to the whirlpool of my sin. I’ll escape now from the world… Another story must begin!” Jean Valjean has been born again.
God has redeemed the hard-hearted criminal Jean Valjean. The word redeemed means “to buy back,” and Valjean’s life has been bought back or purchased by God. He has been the recipient of God’s hospitality through the bread and wine served by the priest who acknowledged his dignity and worth as a human being. He has experienced God’s grace, through the light of the candlesticks, as his soul was purchased by the blood of Christ. He has now been raised up, a redeemed follower of Christ. From this point on in Hugo’s story, we see in dramatic fashion the influence, impact, and power of Jean Valjean’s transformed life as he sacrificially shares the light of Christ with others. He will come to the aid of Fantine, whose name means “childlike,” as she is one of the “little ones” whom Christ spoke of who has been abused and led astray by the world. He adopts Fantine’s child Cosette, rescuing her from the evil Thénardiers, a family whose antipathy for God comes out in their selfish greed and disdain for others. Throughout most of the rest of his life, Valjean will also face his accuser, Javert, the symbol of the law, the antithesis of mercy and grace. Eventually Javert himself will be faced with the offer of God’s grace, through the life of Valjean. Rather than surrender to God’s grace, Javert will end his own life in rebellion against the loving, grace-offering God.
At the end of Jean Valjean’s life, we can see that he has learned the truth spoken by another John, that “God is love”; the candlesticks shine brightly around his face as he sings this prayer in the musical: “God on high, hear my prayer. Take me now to thy care. Bring me home. . . . Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory.” Valjean is at peace with God. The music and the words of the song reveal to the audience, if just for an instant, the hope that awaits all who put their trust in Christ.
The final line of the musical, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” reflects the words of Scripture when, upon their reunion, Jacob says to Esau, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.”
Victor Hugo’s classic Les Misérables, whether experienced through his novel or the musical adaptation, will continue to touch hearts and minds, for deep down within us all is the yearning to know God’s loving hospitality, grace, and redemption. As Jesus’ followers imitate Bienvenue and Jean Valjean and share their grace-filled candlesticks with strangers, more will find hope in this dark world.
1. Christopher Edwards, Spectator, October 19, 1985.
2. John Morrison, To Love Another Person: A Spiritual Journey through Les Miserables (Cheshire, CT: Zossima Press, 2009), 4.
3. C.S. Lewis, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in Selected Literary Essays 1969.
4. Atlantic Monthly, July 1862.
5. Addison H. Hart, “Sentiments Abstractly Christian.” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, May–June 1998.
6. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (New York: Fawcett Books, 1961), xi., Trans. Charles E. Wilbour.
7. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, Les Misérables: The Complete Libretto, accessed September 20, 2012, http://point11.tripod.com/lmlyric1.htm.
8. Hugo, Les Misérables, 18–19.
9. Ibid., 32.
10. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 282.
Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D. Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach has worked in education, “tent-making,” nonprofit administration, and pastoral ministry in Alaska, Israel, Hungary, France, and Virginia. He served as a Dean and professor at European Bible Institute, and worked for Oakwood Services International before coming to CSLI. He has a B.A from Wheaton College, M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.