Les Misérables is still on my brain because it is such a fantastic movie and musical, I just can’t stop thinking about it. It certainly helps that the musical is chock full of Christian themes. One of the biggest themes Les Misérables shows is social justice.
Social justice, in a Christian context, in its simplest forms means care and consideration for the poor and outcast for several reasons. One, because Christ commands us to love one another and we are all created in God’s image, and two, because nothing in this world belongs to us; it belongs to God.
The main theme of Les Misérables is “to love another person is to see the face of God.” This is a profound statement that connects to my first point about social justice. The story of Genesis describes how God created man and woman in God’s image. Being created in God’s image makes us something special; nothing else is created in God’s image. Furthermore, humans are commanded in the Bible to love God, but also to love each other. These two are actually connected. By loving each other we are loving God, but if we love God and don’t love our fellow human beings, then we are actually contradicting ourselves.
A character like Javert, who claims to be so religious and devoted to God, and who actively looks down on and mistreats his fellow human beings, actually shows his lack of love and respect for God. Javert is a contradiction.
But the biggest reflection of Christian social justice in Les Misérables is the treatment of the poor. Christian social justice stresses that nothing in this world actually belongs to us; it belongs to God, because God created it. We are only the stewards of the good here on Earth. Furthermore, since God loves all of us equally, he expects the goods of this world to be distributed equally. According to Christian social justice, it is no sin to be rich, but to be so wealthy when the poor have nothing is considered an atrocity to the point of even being a sin. Christian social justice argues that the wealthy have a responsibility to help the poor.
This is exemplified in the characters of Jean Valjean and the Bishop. Valjean learns how to be a better person and a good Christian from the Bishop. What the Bishop shows him is compassion, respect, and mercy. He takes Valjean in from the cold, even though he is a social pariah, shows him mercy when Valjean steals from him, and furthermore gives him his wealth in order to help him. He respected and valued Valjean as a human being. These are lessons that Valjean carries with him when he leaves the Bishop. Yes, he makes a fortune for himself, but takes that on as a great responsibility to help the poor. He sacrifices nearly everything to help Fantine, Cosette, Marius, the revolutionaries, and even Javert who is trying to kill him.
If there ever was a better example of Christian social justice in popular culture, I haven’t seen it.