A Taste of Grace

Imagine the police knocking on your door one day, accompanied by a scruffy ex-convict, whom only yesterday you befriended. As thanks for your generosity, the ex-con has stolen most of your silver. What do you do? This is the opening question of Les Miserables, the magnificent Victor Hugo classic that has been made once again into a movie, this one starring Liam Neeson. The film, now out on video, is a stunning illustration of the way truly great art incorporates rich biblical themes. The convict's name is Jean Valjean and the man he has stolen from is a bishop. But this is no ordinary bishop. He's a radical believer who takes the words of Jesus literally. So when Valjean is dragged before him holding the stolen silver, the Bishop informs the startled police that the silver was a gift. He turns the other cheek by giving Valjean a pair of silver candlesticks as well, and then sets him free. Later we learn that Valjean had spent nineteen years in prison merely for stealing a loaf of bread out of hunger, an injustice that left him deeply embittered. The bishop's act of generosity and grace breaks the cycle of anger and sin. This is Valjean's first taste of grace, and it transforms him. The ex-convict later shows the same extraordinary forgiveness and grace to someone who wrongs him. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it's extraordinarily compelling, with a powerful Christian message. Why exactly is this story so compelling? Victor Hugo's novel has been a classic for 136 years. It's been turned into a film several times, and it's also been a smash Broadway musical. Why does a story with a thoroughly biblical story line appeal to non-Christians just as much as it does to Christians? The answer is that any story dealing with biblical themes is also dealing with the universal themes that are at the very core of human existence¾themes that are inherently interesting. It's no accident that the account of Jesus' own life has been called "The Greatest Story Ever Told." As Ed Veith writes in his book State of the Arts, "What can send the imagination reeling like the doctrine of the Incarnation, the infinite concealed in the finite, or the Atonement, the tragedy of sacrifice and the comedy of resurrection and the forgiveness of sin?" Dorothy Sayers puts it is a single phrase: "The dogma is the drama," she writes, meaning that the story of salvation is, indeed, the story of all stories, the one that fascinates like no other. That's why Christian art can be more compelling than any other kind. Christian art alone can provide the answers to the questions we all have, whether we admit it or not. Stories like Les Miserables tell us who we are and unavoidably lead us to the One Who made us and Who waits for us on the other side of our questions. Why not rent this video. Patty and I just did, and we were riveted watching it. Invite over some unbelieving friends, and use the story line to discuss ideas of forgiveness, grace, and transformation. Like following the rainbow to its source, you just might find that these universal themes lead you straight to the pot of gold we call the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Chuck Colson


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