Les Misérables - page 1

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From the Winter 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Les Misérables:

A Story of God's Hospitality, Grace, and Redemption

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship & Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute


s I watched my son and the other actors sing the final notes of the chorus, the audience rose as one in thunderous applause. Men and women alike wiped away tears of deep emotion. It was one of those rare moments when everyone in the room knew that we had witnessed something exceptional. As a father of one of the performers in Lake Braddock Secondary School’s 2012 musical production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, I was naturally proud of what the cast had accomplished. But they had gone beyond our proud-parent expectations and created one of the most powerful experiences many of us had had in years. I had to ask, “How is it that this bunch of talented public high school students had been able to inspire the hearts and minds of busy, distracted, suburban moms, dads, kids, grandparents, friends, and neighbors? What was their secret?” Could the young actors’ sincerity and enthusiasm, the powerful musical score, and the inherent message of God’s grace within Hugo’s masterpiece have created the perfect storm to stir up our hearts? If so, is there a lesson in Les Misérables for those of us who follow Christ and would like to be more effective in communicating God’s grace to others?
  On Christmas Day 2012, Hollywood will be releasing a new film version of the musical, Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crow, and Anne Hathaway. Whether or not the Hollywood film will have the same success as the Lake Braddock production in its ability to touch the human heart may depend on how true it remains to the themes of God’s loving hospitality, grace, and redemption found in Victor Hugo’s original work. If it does, it may provide followers of Jesus with some opportunities for meaningful conversations at home and around the water cooler at work.
   In 1985, when the Royal Shakespeare Company introduced the world to Boublil and Schönberg’s musical, Les Misérables, it got less than favorable reviews. Most critics didn’t think it would last a year. Christopher Edwards echoed many when he panned it as being “sentimental and melodramatic.”1 However, the fans, not the critics, got the last word as the musical went on to become a phenomenon with one of the longest runs in history on the West End and on Broadway. Could it be that postmoderners who have been told that they need to fend for themselves in a world without God were captivated by Hugo’s alternative worldview?
  Hugo’s book and the musical adaptation portray a very real and broken world in which “les misérables,” the downtrodden of the world, suffer greatly as a result of ignorance, injustice, poverty, and degrading laws and customs. This could describe much of the world as we know it today. However, as John Morrison writes,

Les Misérables also offers a solution in the redemptive journey of one man who discovers the nature and power of love and forgiveness . . . for Hugo what matters most is the substance of Jean Valjean’s surrender, the passion which comes to define and direct his life, a passion which participates ultimately in The Passion, the Passion of Christ.2

  In other words, Les Misérables presents the hope found in the good news of Jesus that can’t be found in pessimistic postmodern philosophy.

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