My daughters and I are Les Miserables fans. I think we first started with an audio version of the story from Focus on the Family. Then we found recordings of the musical, the 10th anniversary performance, the 25th anniversary performance, and enjoyed a live Broadway Across America performance from our perch in the very, very back row of the top balcony.
It’s a gritty story, full of sinners and the ugly consequences of sin, but it’s also a story of mercy and grace.
Inspector Javert has never been my favorite character in the story. In my mind, he’s always been the unrelenting bad guy, the evil through-and-through meanie, the self-righteous legalist who won’t leave Jean Valjean alone.
But in the newest movie version of Les Miserables (see note below) Russell Crowe helped me realize that Javert is just human. He’s an over-zealous law-enforcer who takes his job seriously, but grows increasingly bewildered as he tries to reconcile justice with mercy – especially when mercy is shown to him.
I can relate to Javert.
How often, as a mama, have I erred on the side of justice?
How often have I failed to show the kind of mercy that God continually shows to me?
It’s not that I think mercy is a bad idea. Sometimes I just don’t want to be merciful. I’m too busy being annoyed or self-righteous. Often I don’t know whether to weigh in on justice, or let mercy shine. I’ve often been confused about when to make an issue of something, and when to overlook it, when to point out a poor attitude and when to give grace.
Sometimes, while trying to stand for justice, I’m afraid my words and actions have communicated to my children that they must earn my approval, or even worse, that their behavior is what earns God’s approval. It sometimes looks an awful lot like Inspector Javert’s philosophy, “Honest work, just reward. That’s the way to please the Lord.”
What if God tried to be as “consistent” with me as I’ve sometimes thought I should be with my kids? What if He disciplined me every time I sinned? What if, when I mess up, I sensed even a hint of His love waning?
I’d crumble. I’d give up. I’d think He didn’t love me.
The prophet Micah says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 3:8, ESV)
Victor Hugo, in the novel Les Miserables, says this of Javert, “Probity [integrity or uprightness], sincerity, candor [impartiality], conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed.”
We must take care to not misdirect our desire to deal justly with our children. We are supposed to “do justice”. As parents, we are given dozens of opportunities each day to accurately reflect God’s just character as we settle disagreements, discipline for sin, and teach our children God’s standard of right and wrong.
But we give our children a very distorted picture of God, if we only do justice and fail to love kindness and walk humbly with our God. God is a god of mercy. He delights in blessing us. He wants to forgive. In His great mercy, He sent His Son to die so that justice could be satisfied and forgiveness granted.
If we walk humbly with our God, we will be ever mindful of our own sin and our own undeserved forgiveness. We will be fellow pilgrims with our children, acknowledging our own sin, praying for wisdom, and eager to show mercy, because God has shown mercy to us.
Note: The recent movie version of Les Miserables is gritty. It unapologetically shows a world of sin and misery, but it also shows sin’s painful consequences and the toll it takes in people’s lives. Some folks may be offended by particular scenes. Read reviews if you are considering seeing the movie.