On Law and Grace: Thoughts on Javert and Jean-Valjean

Les-MiserablesVictor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a perennial source of reflection on the human heart. Long-time pastor and professor Doug Samples in 2012 put together a blog site entitled: “The Les Mis Project: Finding the Gospel in the Music of Les Miserables.” The site is a tag-team effort and well worth your time.

Doug wrote about inspector Javert’s suicide in this entry. He speaks about the “Law Keepers” in holiness churches, the people who like to play “gotcha!” They are a graceless bunch. I’ve known a few like that across the years, but looking at where we are as a church today, we are arguably careening toward the other ditch, that of antinomianism, or lawlessness. The Wesleyan Way is the via media, finding the balance between extremes. That’s what I had in mind when I posted this commentary in response to Doug’s blog:

Hello Doug –

I’m a bit late joining in the conversation! Thanks to your weblog, though, it’s all here a couple months later, and I’m grateful. Please keep it here for others.

My wife and I saw the latest movie with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and others. I can’t remember a time when I’ve sat through a movie with such rapt attention. By nature, I’m one who fidgets, but not that night.

Looking at Javert is like looking in the mirror of my younger self. I won’t go into needless details, but by the grace of God, I’m trending toward Jean Valjean these days. Still, the “Are you John Valjean or Javert?” is too simple a question. Strangely enough, I’m something of a mixture. I find, however, than when I have a “Javert moment,” it can freeze relationships.

On the other hand, it may be too simple to say that pre-Road to Damascus Paul was Javert and afterwards he was Jean Valjean. He never lost the Pharisee streak in his thinking, and quite frankly, I’m glad he didn’t. For all the attempts to say they contradict each other, Paul and James have more in common than the first glance would suggest. James speaks of the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). May I suggest that there are many in our churches coming out of the “anything goes” life of sin that really need some Javerts? They need the boundaries, the discipline – and that is a big word in spiritual formation, is it not? – that is an important thread in the Christian faith. Wise is the pastor who can channel such individuals in the direction of a Javert, someone who can provide the other “wing” on the airplane without which grace easily becomes license.

Lots to think about here! “Law” and “grace” are both necessary. Let us not condone a lawless grace, nor a graceless law. There is a via media that puts the two together.

Thanks again, Doug, Nate, and John for this excellent blog. I read most of the sermons yesterday, and came away inspired. Good job!

– Greg

It’s easy to talk about balance but much more difficult to find it. How do you keep flexibility and discipline together in your life?

 

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5 thoughts on “On Law and Grace: Thoughts on Javert and Jean-Valjean

  1. No other issue today exemplifies this tension between Grace and Law (Truth) as much as the issue of homosexuality and how it is being more and more accepted and promoted in the church. It was the Hyper-grace movement which led to the ultimate shut down of Exodus (I know, your favorite organization) by it’s president, Alan Chambers, a loyal comrade of Clark Whitten who wrote the book Pure Grace. In this movement, a person openly living the homosexual lifestyle is told that they can live this way and still make it to heaven as long as they repented once for their sins. There is never a need for further repentance since all past, present and future sins are “covered” by the cross. So in my opinion sanctification, the Holy Spirit, and all scripture other than John 3:16 are seemingly irrelevant with that theology.

  2. Our mutual NazNet friend, Dana Grant, sent me a link to this blog. She knows that I am an absolute fanatic when it comes to “Les Miserables” . . . the book, the music, the many movies, the live performances, etc. I’ve also done quite a bit of reading on the “law versus grace” theme, so I really found your comments interesting.

    I thoroughly agree with what you’ve written. We DO need exposure to a bit of Javert for the very reasons you’ve stated. But we decided to leave the denomination several years ago because that seemed to be the primary trait of many we met there, and it just felt impossible to live up to their standards. We still have Nazarene friends whom we love and respect, though (who shall forever after be thought of as Valjeans).

    Thank you for your comments here. Dana tells me I’d also enjoy reading the webpage mentioned in your link about “Finding the Gospel in the Music . . . ” and I’m sure she’s right.

    Blessings on your work in Africa. We had breakfast the other day with former Nazarene missionaries to Africa – Ken and Edythe Crow, and were good friends with the late Dr. and Mrs. John Sutherland who also served there. Not a Javert in the bunch!

    Paula Karr

    • Hello Paula,

      So glad to read your note. The Crows are on my list of heroes.

      Funny, I would have thought that the Javert tendency was on the decline among us, but maybe I look at the world through different eyes, and just don’t see it?

      Glad you enjoy “Les Miérables,” and hope you’ll feel at home here at Theology in Overalls. You can get all new posts via e-mail by subscribing.

      – Greg

      • From what I read online, it would seem that there ARE less Javerts – but we encountered them for over 35 years, and have now been gone for 15 years, and enjoying meeting more Valjeans.

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