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Fantine died without ever asking forgiveness for her prostitution. The bishop lied to protect Valjean; saving a life does not justify sin. The students carried on an armed rebellion for two days, committing several murders; even if this was for a decent cause, we must obey the laws of the land unless they contradict God's laws. Valjean also violated the laws of the land by breaking parole and never seems to have regretted it. At least we can be sure of Javert, but only because of his suicide. He was merely doing his duty in pursuing a lawbreaker throughout the story, and I agree with everything he did except his suicide.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by David, fredsbend, Dan, Affable Geek, warren Sep 16 '13 at 16:27

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Most of the point of Les Miserables is a condemnation of legalistic attitudes towards Christianity, in which some people seek to deny others salvation based on the sins they have committed. You don't know if any of the characters repented at any point, and even if you did you are missing the point = God's forgiveness is bigger than man's rules. That's what the novel is largely about. – DJClayworth Sep 15 '13 at 3:15
" At least we can be sure of Javert, but only because of his suicide. " I don't see how we can be sure. [Catholic perspective] – Andrew Sep 15 '13 at 7:19
Oddly enough, the Bishop with the Silver candlesticks did not appear in the heavenly returns (probably because he wasn't dead yet!) - but did the most Christian act in the entire novel. – Affable Geek Sep 15 '13 at 11:01
This is obviously a Catholic work of art. The main theme is legalism vs. mercy....stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child vs. harsh punishment according to the Law. THis is also mixed with the Catholic doctrine of "redemptive suffering" meaning that when miserable-ness is laid at the foot of the Cross it becomes purges sin. Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness.... – user5286 Sep 15 '13 at 12:37
@DJClayworth Of course not. Its just that it is a piece of art that was inspired/created from a Catholic world view...just like Dante's Inferno, Allegri's Miserere, and Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Catholic realities are by definition universal. – user5286 Sep 15 '13 at 18:30

1 Answer 1

You have, deliberately or not, hit on a central point of Les Miserables with a strong link to Christianity.

The central theme of Les Miserables is the contrast between two views of morality, right and wrong, good and evil. In one view, morality is clear cut, black and white, inflexible. If you did this thing wrong, then you will be condemned and punished for it. No excuses, no mitigating circumstances, no mercy, no compassion. This is the way espoused by Inspector Javert. He says it clearly "mine is the way of the law". We see it in his merciless pursuit of Valjean, his refusal to grant him the time he needs to rescue Collette, and many other places.

The other view is the way of grace. In this view, right and wrong are not as clearcut. They are not defined just by a set of rules. There is room for mercy, for compassion and mitigating circumstances. This is the way followed by Valjean. He shows it in sparing of Javert, but also his admission the he is responsible, at least in part, for the plight Fantine found herself in. The novel's events are kicked off by Valjean's stealing bread to feed his starving family. His sentence to many years hard labour is absolutely according to the law, but is it just? It's also absolutely key that Valjean's redemption is kicked off by the generosity of the Bishop. Valean really did steal silver from him, and absolutely deserved to be punished for it, according to the 'way of the law'. But the bishop chooses the way of grace, and gives Valjean mercy instead of his due punishment. And note that Valjean does not repent, or promise to live a better life, before the act of grace. Instead he repents only after the act of grace has been done. These two ways are compared, and the novel clearly comes down on the side of Valjean's way of grace as the better one. This question, I have to say, seems more like a question Javert would ask than Valjean.

So how does this relate to Christianity?

Very closely. In fact the theme is really derived from Christianity. In New Testament scripture the contrast between Law and Grace is made frequently. Romans chapter 6 is a key passage, but there are relevant verses throughout the New Testament contrasting grace and law and declaring that Christians are under grace and not under the law. In other words - Christianity is about following the way of Valjean, not the way of Javert.

Because of this, it is very dangerous for Christians to try to claim that any person is condemned. In Exodus 33:19 God says "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.". It is not for us to say that there are people on whom God cannot possibly have mercy. God sees the heart, and it is within his right to forgive any person he chooses for whatever reason he chooses.

Another key point of Christianity is summed up in Romans 13. 'Love is the fulfillment of the law' and 'The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”' Was the Bishop's 'lie' a loving act? Would it's opposite have been a more or less loving act? Fantine's prostitution was to save Cosette from death. Ultimately loving or not loving? Valjean went to the barricades to rescue his Cosette's lover, not to kill.

It has to be said that there is not universal agreement about these matters within Christianity. Some take the view of "the law is the law, no matter what the reason", which is essentially Javert's view. In my personal opinion they are ignoring a whole pile of scripture, and Jesus teaching, to do so. There are plenty of occasions where Jesus pronounces forgiveness on people who have not 'formally' declared any kind of repentance: the woman taken in adultery, the thief on the cross, the paralytic lowered through the roof. The story of Tamar is another where the end appears to justify the means. Although Tamar commits adultery and tricks Judah, it is clearly stated that the unjust circumstances drove her to it, and the passage doesn't condemn her. In fact Judah says of her: "You are more righteous than I". If we claim that those people are not forgiven, we risk aligning ourselves with Javert and the Pharisees.

On a more simple level, the fact that you don't read about repentance in the novel doesn't mean it didn't happen. maybe all the characters you see have repented. They have certainly all been healed in many ways. In some cases it's difficult to imagine what form that repentance would take. Fantine's prostitution was to save the life of her daughter. For her to say "I wish I hadn't done that" would be equivalent to her saying "I wish I had given my daughter up for dead". I don't think any of us should ever put ourselves in the position of saying that to a real live person, even if we can think theoretically that it might have worked out.

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I always thought sin was never justified. – Lee Sleek Sep 16 '13 at 2:05
There's a lot of difference between justified, understandable and forgiveable. But any thinking that if you do this or that then you absolutely must be condemned is just legalistic. If you are looking for biblical characters who thought like Javert, then the only ones you will find are the Pharisees. – DJClayworth Sep 16 '13 at 3:18
@DJClayworth, there IS no gray area. Brother, any man that sins IS condemned. Denying that is denying the cross for in which Jesus paid our debt. The Law is necessary! If I steal, I am condemned, and therefore need the saving grace of Christ. The Law and Grace DO NOT CONTRADICT ONE ANOTHER. This is why Jesus came so pay our debt! Where the is no Law there is no condemnation, and there is no need for the cross! If I have broken the Law, I am in need of grace, but once I am given grace should I go back to sinning? God forbid! – jlaverde Sep 16 '13 at 13:20
God gave us two choices: "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. – jlaverde Sep 16 '13 at 13:23
@jlaverde This is far too complex an issue to debate in comments. – DJClayworth Sep 16 '13 at 13:31

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