Monday, July 22, 2013
The Bishop's Silver, Internet Domain
In his book “The Reason for God” author Timothy Keller writes about the two principle characters in Les Miserables; “Jean Valjean is a bitter ex-convict. He steals silver from a bishop who has already shown him kindness. He is caught by gendarmes, and is brought back under arrest to the Bishop’s home. In an act of radical grace the bishop gives Valjean the silver and releases him from arrest. This act of mercy shakes him to the core…Valjean chooses to let grace have its way with him. He gives up his deep self-pity and bitterness and begins to live a life of graciousness toward others. He is changed at the root of his being. The other main character in the novel is the police officer Javert, who has built his entire life on his understanding of rewards and punishments…He relentlessly and self-righteously pursues Valjean, even though it is wrecking his own life. Finally, Javert falls into Valjean’s hands. Instead of killing him, Valjean lets his enemy go. This act of radical grace is deeply troublesome to Javert. He realizes that to appropriately respond to this gesture will require a complete change in his world view. Rather than make that change, he throws himself into the Seine. This may seem the greatest paradox of all. The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life”. Many world religions believe that good acts will result in God’s acceptance, but Christianity teaches that we are accepted by God through what his Son has done for us and good acts become our willful response.
Keller notes that the members of his New York City congregation ask the question “Why would Jesus have to die to secure our forgiveness?” more often than “Does God exist?” It appears to many people that God needed a human sacrifice in the form of his Son to be appeased. But this wasn't anything like the trials of the young Cosette who was victimized and exploited by the master innkeeper and his wife or a form of "divine child abuse". We’re reminded of the Christian belief in the Trinity as Keller clarifies, “this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us”. He took this suffering upon himself in an act of unconditional love and redical grace.