I am currently in love with the Les Miserables movie, so expect me to be talking about it a lot here. Because, at its heart, Les Miserables isn’t just about how bad things are or a bunch people dying—it’s about God and faith.
Our two male leads, Jean Valjean and Javert, are two characters at the heart of a theological debate. The debate is not simple—it’s more a conflict between two different views of morality. This is a problem a lot of Christians, and a lot of religious people in general, have, and that’s the difference between “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law.” This means the difference between obeying specifically what the law says or obeying the overall message.
“Thou Shall Not Steal” is one of the Ten Commandments. Should good Judeo-Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Of course we should—this is the law of God.
But wait, what if someone is poor and starving and steals bread to feed themselves and their family? Is stealing still wrong then?
Oh, my God, what an oddly appropriate example for Les Miserables.
Valjean stealing and being sent to prison characterizes everything about Javert and Valjean’s relationship. Everything about Valjean in Javert’s mind is defined by this one thing, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
Now if we interpret this scenario from the understanding of “the spirit of the law”, things work differently. The main message or the spirit of the Bible is, at its core, to love one another. Yes, the Bible contradicts itself all over the place, but that is still the main message. Love others as God has loved you.