Friday, June 13, 2008

Inspector Javert: Some thoughts on the Law (when I should be sleeping)

“Why did you let me go?”

“I had no choice.”


“Once many years ago, a good man, bought my soul, removed from it all evil thoughts and gave it to God.”

“There is no God. There is only the Law. Guilt and innocence do not exist outside of the Law.”

“If that is what you believe, then you must kill me. Kill me now.”

“Turn around.”

Jean Valjean turns his face to the wall as Javert aims his pistol with all the steely resolve and cold calculation of the precise, unyielding Law.

Inspector Javert strikes close to home. In a certain sense, I love and hate Javert intensely. I love (neither in the sense that one “loves” a peanut butter and jelly sandwich nor in the sense that one “loves” a fiancé or a husband) him for I pity him and truly, he is a part of me which I cannot rid myself of. I loathe and hate him because he is a part of me – the aspect of my mind which gives me no rest, which accuses, which kills. I used to call him my conscience. Now I don’t know what to call him but “the Law”.

He keeps me from murdering my neighbor, from lying about my brother, from yielding to every desire of my body, and from open theft. Yet he does not stop there. He dredges up the deep dirt – the filth of my heart which horrifies me - and when it fails to trouble me, accuses of a callous conscience.

I also used to think of the Javert in me as a “decent sense of justice”. But really he is only my own self-righteous pride which makes me demand my own condemnation. Inwardly (I have never been able to observe myself from any other angle – more ‘s the pity) I also would stiffly march up to my superior, keeping the proper distance in speech and action, informing him that I have failed in my duty and insulted him and therefore he must condemn and drive me from my post.

If one would know the true trouble of my heart it is a constant awareness of the presence of Inspector Javert.

When my heart weeps for his bottled up pain, it weeps for itself. Even in the movie it is evident: watch him – Javert holds every muscle under strict control, does not speak unnecessarily, does not reveal any emotion. It is evident that he is in control and that Javert will not allow himself to make a mistake. His soul is proud. At the same time it is crying in agony – it is writhing in torment. But fool that he is, he does not allow himself to notice his own piercing pain. He controls it like every other part of him.

Perhaps it is the Law that makes us humans fearful of losing control.

So what does the Law do when it encounters Grace. What does Javert do when he is forced to face the victim he has pursued so long and finds in the ex-convict the forgiveness, grace, and love his heart yearns for but which his soul spurns.

He breaks asunder. He truly does. You cannot see it on the outside. But he loses control. He fears this love more than anything else.

In the end, Grace tears from Javert his control of himself and forces him to show mercy. But Javert will not show mercy to himself. His pride will not receive mercy. If the God who does not exist and the men he did not create refuse to deal out “lawful” retribution to Javert both for his violation of the Law and his failure to break the Law by showing mercy, Javert will deal that punishment himself.

Quite a fearsome end.

There is no freedom to be found in the Law - None whatsoever. It is tense, it is burdensome, it weighs upon the soul of man. It hunts – through the years, through the offices of the prosperous, the cubicles of the dying, through the impetuous carnage of rebellious youth, the sludge of the sewer. The only place Javert does not dare to step foot is the quiet of the Convent.

The law kills. It is fell – deadly. It gloats and mocks. Pity is a thing unknown to the Law. “Their hearts are unfeeling like fat.”

Victor Hugo is quite correct in his analysis of the effect of the Law on poor miserable sinners. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe or receive forgiveness of sin. It simply isn’t in the power of Inspector Javert or any of us.

Thank God that he forgives us anyway. Thank God that “the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.” Without Him, our lives would end precisely like Inspector Javert’s – in hopeless despair and unbelief.

The sweetness of the Gospel hurts only in that it gently pries the immaculate, ice-like, tenacious fingers of Javert from strangling my heart. Javert fights back:

“There is no [gracious] God. There is only the Law. Guilt and innocence do not exist outside of the Law.”

But Christ answers him.

“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Take drink. This is the true blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
This child of mine is innocent. She bears my mark now - on her forehead and on her heart.

The Law killed Jesus in my place. Why do I keep forgetting that? I am NOT GUILTY. I am free from bondage to fear.

Javert lives in self-righteous fear. Valjean lives in perfect peace and freedom even while he is being pursued and hunted. Valjean knows love and forgiveness and acts in love and forgiveness. That love drives out his fear. Valjean is more free at the moment he turns himself in to the tribunal to save an innocent man than he was in all his years as monsieur le mayor. The love shown to him is strong enough to cause him to break his own “sacred promise” – the vow to kill Javert.

I have not been tense; I have been afraid.

Afraid of what? Of Inspector Javert. Of the Law. Of condemnation.

But there is nothing to fear. “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” None. Javert can hunt me down from the corners of the earth but he will not find a single accusation that will stick. For Christ bears my brand of “convict”- my identifying mark from the prison of Toulon. And just as Valjean acquitted the innocent wheelwright by displaying his own brand to the tribunal at Arras, so Jesus declares me innocent by bearing my brand of sin before the unbending prosecutor of the Law.

By the grace of God, I have my own “Monsignor Bienvenu” to whom I can flee when Javert chases me. In fact I have two! And I know that they will shelter me – not by their own power, nor will they try to “purchase my soul” with their own silver – by the proclamation of the One who has purchased my soul with His blood. They will feed me not on their own hard-earned sustenance, but with the meal of Him who gives Himself as the food for all His guests – be they ever so uncomely, unwashed, unshaven, and rude.

In the Gospel there is perfect peace, perfect rest without fear, perfect freedom. It was this Gospel proclamation which caused Higher Things to have such a tremendous impact on me.
In the words of Gollum (who I don’t normally quote) Javert was told to “Go away, and never come back!” Back he certainly came and hid himself for sometime – I couldn’t figure out what he was and how he managed to dampen my spirits. But thanks be to God that Christ stills the clamoring of the Law and brings perfect peace through the Gospel.

More thoughts on “Les Miserables” to come. But it’s way past bedtime now. I'll be dead on my feet tomorrow. Uggh!


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Excellent post, Truth Questioner. You've left me hungering for more. I have to confess that I've never seen the movie (nor even read the book -- for shame!). But you've piqued my interest greatly.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

TruthQuestioner said...

Uh, I confess I've never finished the book - at least the unabridged volume. It's quite lengthy.
The dialogue is actually quoted from the movie starring Anthony Perkins and Richard Jordan. If you want to get a feel for the very basic theme, that's a good movie. It leaves out a lot of the key characters, but it doesn't really add anything to the story like so many movies do. There is an older movie (much longer too!) but I can't remember who acts in it. That one is excellent for more story line and character development. Finally, if you don't mind audio rather than audio-visual, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre has done a rather fine performance of Les Miserables which I would suggest if you have time and interest (along with the shorter movie)

Just a advertisement for Les Miserables.

On the other hand, I have no such advertisement for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (another V. Hugo book). I really don't care for that story. (never finished it either)

Snap said...

The longer version you are refering to stars Jean Gabin, Daniele Delorme, and Bernard Bleir

TruthQuestioner said...

On a second thought, watch the older, longer movie too. It gives more of the story and is more accurate to the book, though the shorter one doesn't stray far.