Les Miserables and Climate Change

by Alexei Laushkin

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

(Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

I just came back from watching the film Les Miserables, and it’s hard not to miss the Christian message throughout this film. The misapplied justice done to Jean Valjean who gets 20 years in prison and hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. Those who have experienced cruelty, addiction, and/or the collapse of life will easily identify with the main character.

Valjean becomes the lens from which we see the plight of the soul. From bitterness to befuddlement, compassion to a staggering lack of self-forgiveness, we get the story of grace and law replayed multiple times between the encounters of Valjean and inspector Javert, and Valjean with himself. The inspector is an interesting personification of another type of Christianity, one in which hard work and obedience to the right will lead to success in this life and the life to come.

les-miserables-movie-posterBoth Valjean and Javert come from humble origins, but at a certain point Javert can no longer identity with the plight of the poor and downtrodden, preferring to see them as lazy and non-law abiding almost deserving of their poverty (sound familiar?). The conflict between Valjean and Javert plays out until Valjean’s acts of compassion to Javert finally create an unresolvable conflict for Javert.

The last scenes of the film are particularly moving and echo hopes for new creation, new heavens and a new earth where the Lord will finally bring all things to right and uphold the cause of the beaten down and forgotten of this world.

With a strong emphasis on the injustices faced by the poor, it’s hard not to see the connection between the compassion of Jean Valjean and the priest who buys his salvation, and the compassion required by Christians to speak out against those who will face injustice from the chains of a changing climate. How can we stand back and watch the poor of the world get crushed by wave after wave of failed crops, polluted air, and lack of available clean water. The story of Les Miserables is the story of compassion set against a wave of injustice; it ought to stir our hearts to compassion against the present and coming injustices of this world.

do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!


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