Posts tagged forgiveness
With a classic story by Victor Hugo, music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil respectively, direction by Tom Hooper and a star-studded cast headed by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried, the film version of Les Misérables is a blockbuster hit that is being hailed as a masterpiece by critics and audiences alike.
I saw the film and I have to say that I agree, although there were some shortcomings. Now, first, I must warn you that I was a musical theater guy in high school and college and even spent some time in theatre conservatory (you know it’s serious when the word is spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e), so I know the story and music of “Les Mis” like the back of my hand. This, of course, serves to both inform and bias my opinion of the film. With that confession, here is my quick take before getting to the heart of this post.
The story is as compelling as ever (more on that momentarily) and the music brilliant as always. The direction and cinematography are well-done and add depth and intimacy to the story that simply can’t be captured on stage. The cast is hit-and-miss, with Hathaway being surprisingly good, Jackman holding his own, but not great, and Seyfried sounding OK, but a little like a modern-day fluttery Cinderella. Then there’s Russell Crowe – far out-classed by his co-stars and outmatched by the vocal score, the guy just isn’t up to the task. It’s not just bad. It’s really bad – embarrassingly bad.
The standouts are some of the unknowns of the film. Little Isabelle Allen as young Cosette, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Natalya Angel Wallace as the grown-up Éponine all shine in their roles as do Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. Eddie Redmayne as Marius is ho-hum.
With all of that taken into consideration, what I walked away from the film with was this: the story of Les Misérables is a story of redemption and forgiveness. It is a story of a cynical man being undeservedly forgiven and living the rest of his life trying to reconcile himself to that forgiveness. A single act, carried out without hesitation by a priest, pivots Jean Valjean’s life and opens up something in him that can never be resealed.
This, to me, is the story of the Kingdom of God. A single act of forgiveness that brings redemption to us all and (if recognized for what it truly is) affects us to our core for the rest of our existence. If we understand the forgiveness we’ve received, then we can give forgiveness when it seems the least warranted. If we understand the death from which we were spared, then we can spare others who deserve a similar fate. If we understand the brokenness of our own humanity, then we can see more clearly the humanity of even the most broken people.
The story of Les Misérables is the story of us. We are the miserable ones who, without the redemptive person of Jesus are “standing in our graves” here on earth. He rescues us – from prison, from the gutter, from being orphaned and, ultimately, from death. He died as one accused so that we could make a clean getaway.
If you venture out to see Les Misérables in the coming days, consider for yourself just how much forgiveness one man had to offer in order for you to live the life you’re living. Then, resolve to offer the same forgiveness to others that you have received for yourself.
What an incredible three chapters! These three songs (or, more likely, one song in three parts) powerfully and vividly tell the story of God and his people. The opening and closing lines, “Praise the Lord” sever as bookends to lyrics that are part history lesson, part exaltation and part marvel at the vastness of of God.
As I read these words, I am reminded of God’s immense (infinite) size, the scope of his work and the enormity of his grace and love. In Psalm 103, there are reminders of God’s forgiveness, healing, redemption, love and compassion (that’s just verses 3 and 4) and so much more. In Psalm 104, we’re reminded of his splendor, his power over nature, his care for creation and his wisdom in his design of it all. Then, in Psalm 105, we get to see how his love and compassion, combined with his power and splendor, worked together to show the people of Israel that he is faithful, no matter what.
He is faithful even when we are not. He is powerful, even when we fail to recognize his power. And, of course, he is loving whether or not we choose to reciprocate that love. The words of these three Psalms have ignited these recognitions in me today. On another day, my post might have been more academic, but today, I simply sit in awe of this God who chooses to deal with my foolishness on a daily basis rather than write me off.
I’m grateful that he decided to involve me in his plan and that he keeps inviting me along, even though I keep messing things up. This is the kind of God I serve and it is the type of leader I want to be.
As I read today about the dedication of the temple, I was reminded of our reading 100 or so days ago, when Moses dedicated the tabernacle. In much the same way that Moses had done before him, Solomon stood before the people and prayed a prayer of dedication. Then, in much the same way as he had done before, God sent this immense fireball to consume the sacrifice. It was as if God was putting his stamp of approval on the temple – his signature on this massive undertaking. It served as a reminder, too, that the same God who brought the people out of Egypt and who had commissioned and blessed the tabernacle was now blessing this temple.
God’s fire from heaven was his initial, public response to the completion and dedication of the temple. But there is also a second, more private response God offers to Solomon. Away from all the festivities and crowds, God appears to Solomon at night and offers these words:
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12)
What an incredible assurance for a king who had worked his entire adult life to make sure that the temple was completed. Then came this:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Now, verse 14 may be familiar to you if you’ve spent any time around church. It is an incredible promise not only for the ancient Israelites, but for us as well. However, I think it’s important to read the sentence (it is, after all, only one sentence divided into two verses) in its entirety. You see, verse 13, the first part of the sentence, says “When” (not if) God shuts the heavens or commands locusts or sends a plague. When God does those things, if the people respond appropriately, God will will hear them, forgive them and heal them.
There are a few things going on here. First, God fully expects that the Israelites are going to screw up. (As I’ve mentioned before, he actually prescribed, in advance, ways for them to make amends for their sins.) Second, he is sending Solomon a subtle reminder that there will be consequences for the sins of the Israelites in the form of droughts, locusts, plagues and the like. And third, he is reminding Solomon that even as he acts as judge over the people, he also acts as defense counsel. If the people – his people – will humble themselves, pray, seek and turn, then he will commute the sentence, pardon the offenders and restore them to relationship with himself.
Verse 14 is an incredible offer of grace that you and I still get to take part in. However, it’s important to remember the truth of verse 13 – that there are consequences for our actions and that God doesn’t simply look the other way. His grace is freely given, but must be received. And, in order to receive it and to receive the pardon that comes along with it, we have to be humble, pray, seek and turn to him.
The temple was a good thing…a really good thing. All at once, it provided a place to worship God, a fixed structure indicating the permanency of Israel’s possession of the land and a sign to neighboring countries that the God of Israel was real and was in charge. Even so, this temple – this marvelously crafted building – was just a building.
Solomon knew this, and so, in the midst of announcing all of the things that the building represented, he also recalled the more important things. He recalled and recited the history between God and the people of Israel. In his dedication of the temple, he spoke of dedication to God. He pleaded to God for grace when he and the people failed to live up to their end of the bargain. He reminded the people (even though it sounds like he is reminding God) of the promises made to his father, David and to Moses.
Solomon, in his wisdom, is reciting these things as a way of solidifying the story in the minds and hearts of the people of Israel. Just like so many who had come before him, Solomon was keeping the history of the people alive. He even suspected that the people would eventually forget about, or fail to honor, this God who had given them so much. And so, he asked God, in advance, to forgive the people and to allow them to return to their land when they repented and turned back to him.
The question, of course, is whether or not Solomon actually knew what was going to happen or whether he was just assuming that the people would stray. The answer is that we can’t be sure. Maybe this was a prophetic word from Solomon, but it didn’t need to be. Any halfway intelligent person who knew about the history of these people could have surmised that they would eventually fall away from God. Remember the book of Judges?
In Judges, we read time and time and time again about the people turning their backs on God, rejecting him, following other gods, being taken captive, crying out to him and, ultimately, being rescued. It was part of their culture. They were almost certainly going to fall away. Solomon knew this and was attempting, all at once, to warn the people and to intercede for them with God.
Many parents today do the same thing. They issue warnings to their children about the dangers of different temptations. At the same time, they pray to God that no matter what their teenager gets into, that God will have grace and keep them safe. Why? Because the person is more important than the deed – good or bad. That’s why God keeps extending grace and mercy long after we cease to deserve it. It is precisely because he cares for us that he is so incredibly patient with us. In turn, we can only pray that we exercise the same grace and patience with others.
At first glance, today’s reading might fall into the “more of the same” category and we have to resist them temptation to simply skim through these chapters. For me, it is important to read every word, because if it’s in the book, it has a purpose for being there. And so, I read through these chapters wondering what was there that we didn’t already cover yesterday. Then it hit me. This was the beginning of God’s crazy plan to save us from ourselves. It doesn’t really look like it from this vantage point, but just wait! Let’s look at the Levitical equation as most people understand it:
Sin Committed + Required Sacrifice = God’s Forgiveness
That makes sense based on the text, but as a New Testament follower of Jesus, I would view the equation more like this:
Sin Committed + Required Sacrifice + God’s Forgiveness = Life + God’s Blessing
What in the world am I talking about? Well, I know that the Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death.” Presumably, anyone able to offer a sacrifice is not dead and, therefore, have not paid the “wages” for their actions. They took out a spiritual payday loan on their life. And so, the sacrifice required is not actually the pricetag for their sins – that pricetag is much higher. Instead, when we sin, God offers forgiveness. And when that forgiveness is added to the “sin” side of the equation, the result is that we have life and blessing, or as the Scripture says, “life…more abundantly.” In fact, through God’s infinite grace, even the price he asked as a sacrifice for our sins was given to us by him. Just as in the story of Abraham and Isaac, God provided the sacrifice for the people of Israel and he provides it for us today. In addition, he tends to restore to us even more than the price that we paid in the first place.
So, what was God up to here? Did he change his mind about the cost of sin, or is there some other explanation? Well, in the pre-Jesus world of Israel, the understanding of sin, sacrifice and forgiveness (or atonement) would perhaps be more like that first equation, but remember, the Old Testament points to the New Testament – it foreshadows (and sometimes directly predicts) the future. And so, I believe that the second equation represents what God was doing all along. The second equation has always been God’s plan, even if his people didn’t know it.
Think of it this way: Imagine that I agree to sell you a car. I look up the Blue Book value of the car and give you a price of, say, $15,000. That is the price, the value, the worth of the car. And so I tell you that I will sell you that car for $15,000, but that if you’ll give me $150 now, you can take the car and use it and we’ll settle up the rest of the payment later. Your assumption, then, would be that you will have to, at some later date, pay me the rest of the price for the car. Now, let’s say that a few weeks later, you see me and say, “Hey, how do you want to work out the payment for this car? Can we do some kind of payment plan?” And I say, “You know what, don’t worry about it right now. I’ve still got the $150 you gave me earlier. We’ll just work it out later.”
Now, let’s imagine that it’s a few months later and I still haven’t required any real payment for the car. You see me again and, knowing that you owe me $14,850, you try to avoid me. But I make the effort and walk over to you, call out your name and begin a conversation. And as we talk, I say, “Hey, I’ve got a lot of things I want to chat with you about, but first, I wanted to let you know that you don’t owe me anything for the car.” Of course, you would be flabbergasted! What had changed my mind?
Well, the truth is that nothing changed my mind. I actually always intended on giving you the car. The only reason I gave you a price in the first place was so that you would understand that what you were receiving was of value. The only reason I asked for the $150 was because I knew that if I told you I was giving you the car, you would never accept it. In other words, your accepted paradigm was that of a financial transaction, so I created one for you. I didn’t need the $150. As a matter of fact, I had already returned the $150 to you multiple times over in ways that you simply didn’t notice. Are you getting the picture?
In this example, my motives never changed and my plan never changed – only your perception changed. And so I think it is with the people of Israel (and with us). That is why reading the Bible in it’s entirety is so critically important! What we read here in Leviticus about all these sacrifices is just the beginning of the story. God is giving us the Blue Book value of our sins and asking for a little down payment – one that, like the $150 for the $15,000 car, pails in comparison to the actual price. It’s not the whole story. It’s just one chapter.
In that case, I guess we’ll have to keep reading…