“Let’s just drive,” I said, as Cathy and I planned a recent trip to Topeka, Kansas. Our journey straddled the July 4th weekend and flights seemed unusually expensive. “I can afford a little extra time off for the trip. We can stop in Albuquerque and see my family on the way."
So we drove...about 1400 miles each way. What do you do on a 1400 mile trip? The answer for us is easy: we listen to audio books. Our choice this year was the unabridged version of Les Miserables. The audio performance was really quite good…but it’s about 30 hours long. 30 hours!
After the first couple of hours, during which we hadn’t really entered the story line yet, Cathy and I made the decision to fast-forward our way through much of the historical background. “Should have gotten the abridged version,” she said.
Even with her jumping around the pastoral passages (I was driving), we still didn’t get finished with the book before we arrived back at home. Therefore, we made the decision to watch the movie, choosing the screen version of the musical, which was produced in 2012.
I happen to like Russell Crowe as an actor, but his Javert wasn’t desperate enough, especially after hearing Victor Hugo’s description of the character in the book. For that matter, most of the movie characters seemed a bit shallow. That may be the result of trying to fit an epic story into a 2 ½ hour movie.
My purpose here today is not to write a critique of either the novel or the film. Instead, I want to point your attention to this simple fact: evil exists…and we will spend our lives either fighting it or capitulating to it. The story of Jean Valjean is captivating and haunting because he was wronged by a system which considered the poor as expendable. Valjean’s initial response was to fight that system with malice and deceit. A powerful change happens to Valjean as the story unfolds. His transformation results from an act of unconditional love. With a new heart and a converted outlook on life, he spends the rest of his days fighting against the very force that once consumed him.
I learned long ago that the most heart-pounding, nerve-wrenching stories MUST have a very evil bad guy (or girl). After all, the battle is largely meaningless unless it includes the hope of bringing down some form of insidious darkness. In Les Miserables, Javert might be seen as that villain. However, he is far more the victim than the perpetrator of darkness. Jean Valjean was considered evil because he stole a loaf of bread to feed hungry family members. Javert considered himself good because of his self-rejecting moralism. Both men, though, were victims of an evil system which only Valjean wanted to escape. After all, moralism is easier to defend than repentance. That is, until a person’s own version of morality fails them, as it does Javert.
I spent far too many years of my life failing to understand the depths of pervasive evil in our world. Maybe my enemy wasn’t dark enough to really grab my attention. That is true no longer. I recently reflected with these lines:
If you stand for the right,
You’ll be in a fight,
For people love darkness
More than they love light.
You see, I have been the moralist and I have been the penitent. I have come to realize that being the latter requires that I face up to the battle lines in our world. It was Paul who reminded us that our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood. Like Javert, people are the (often willing) victims of a world twisted by genuine evil. Fortunately, God has given us weapons of war to bring down the great schemes of our enemy. That’s the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. You don’t want to miss it! If you can’t make it to one of our services, catch the podcast!