Monday, February 17, 2020

Justice and Mercy

This painting hangs in our home and is a depiction of the famous novel, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book holds great meaning in my life. My father read it to me as a child. Growing up I never remember my father crying. But when he read Les Misrables to me I remember he could hardly speak the words as he wiped tears while he read the scene in the painting depicted above. This moment in the book transcends this world and is so beautiful, it makes your soul expand in wonder.

Les Misrables has many stories within the story which intersect over and over. The book takes place in France in the early 1800's amidst a time of great poverty and political unrest. It follows the story of a man, Jean Valjean, who at the age of 26, stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving children. He was caught and imprisoned for five years but because he tried to escape multiple times, he spent a total of 19 years in prison. 

When Jean Valjean leaves prison he is a man filled with hate. The beatings and starvation, the cruelty of prison life left him a very hardened man. Upon reaching his parole we are introduced to a character named Inspector Javert. He is an officer who explains to Valjean how parole works and to not miss his check in points each month or he will go back to prison for violating parole. He does not call Valjean by name and only sees Valjean as his prison number: 24601.

Upon leaving prison, Jean Valjean tries hard to earn money to get food and shelter but he is continually treated unfairly and with cruelty which only solidifies in his mind the lack of goodness in the world. Eat or be eaten. No mercy. Take what you can get.

One night after wandering far, having begged for food and a place to sleep out of the biting cold, he is told to go and knock on the door of the bishop's home and he will be taken in. Valjean knocks on the door and is invited in. 

He is ushered to a warm fire and given hot food and a clean bed to sleep in. He is shocked. Valjean confesses to the bishop that he has been a horrible person, theif, prison, everything. The bishop says, "You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction...whatever is here is yours...What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it." Valjean opens his eyes wide in astonishment. "Really? You knew my name?" "Yes," answered the bishop, "your name is my brother."

When Valjean retires to bed he is racked with questions of how to proceed. This kind of compassion has been unknown to him and whatever goodness did exist had been tortured out of him in prison. Valjean sadly decides to steal the silverware from the Bishop and run. In the morning, once it is discovered what was done, a knock at the door comes. Police officers are holding Valjean and before they can speak the Bishop says to Valjean, "Ah, there you are!" looking towards Jean Valjean, "I am glad to see you. But! I gave you the candlesticks also which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?" Valjean is shocked. He would have been imprisoned and now is given such mercy his mind is nearly splitting in two with confusion of such a gift. 

The Bishop takes the candlesticks from the mantel and gives them to Valjean. "Now," says the bishop, "go in peace. By the way my friend, when you come again you need not come through the garden. You can always come in and go out by the front door. It is closed only with a latch, day or night. The bishop dismisses the police officers and in a low voice continued solemnly: "Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man." Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. : "Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!" 

This one moment leads to Jean Valjean being eternally changed. He becomes a new man. He leaves and tears up his prison parole papers and vow's to live a new life dedicated to God and goodness. He is so ingenious with money and bishop-like kindness that he makes an entire town wealthy as he owns a factory and they beg him to become mayor. He gives to the poor and takes care of those around him. He is a private person, not saying much to anyone, but taking care of all within his reach. He is the Christ figure of the story. He has become what the Bishop believed him to be capable of. He was born again. Made new. He was living a higher law, abiding in Christ. 

Then entering the scene again is Javert: The police officer back in the prison galleys who knew Valjean. The rest of the story consists of Javert continually finding Valjean and Valjean on the run.

My husband and I have been reading Les Miserables to our kids for the last few weeks. As I've been trying to explain Javert to the kids, it's struck me that I've mis-understood Javert my entire life. I always viewed him as an evil antagonist...the perfect "bad guy". But then I realized, he isn't the bad guy at all. He is the kind of police officer you would want patrolling you neighborhood. He is what Jean Valjean deserves. It is perfectly right and just for Valjean to go back to prison. He broke parole. Jean Valjean deserves to go to prison! Period. 

When Javert first sees Jean Valjean post prison, he sees him as a Mayor and the town benefactor, successful, kind, full of love - even witnessing Valjean risking his own life to save a man trapped under a broken wagon. But what's fascinating is - none of that matters. None of it! It's about the law. Valjean broke the law and now it's time to pay for that crime. Javert doesn't do this with any vendetta towards Valjean - he does it because it is what is right to do. He represents perfection in keeping the law.

But the reader of Les Miserables is unknowingly lead into cheering for a person to break the law (Valjean) and even despising the law (Javert) that is given as unmerciful and cruel. Valjean is such a wonderful person...can't the law just overlook the crime he committed and have mercy and let him be free?!! 


The law would have to do that for each person in the world.  You would have to weigh in the balance their good deeds versus their bad and decide who gets to go free and who doesn't? It couldn't work. Partial judgment is impossible. Because no one can truly know the heart of a person - so we have the law to keep us safe. Javert even prays to God and asks the Lord to help him (Javert) find Valjean so he can be safe behind bars. That is honor. That is just and true! 

Moving to the end of the story: due to political upheaval, Javert is delivered into Valjean's hands to be put to death. Valjean holds the pistol in his hand - truly able to take the life of Javert who tells Valjean that he will never stop hunting him. Javert honors the law! Justice must come to pass. But Valjean instead shoots the pistol in the air and frees Javert. This kind of mercy is incomprehensible to Javert. He lives his life by order and light. Like the stars - fixed and immovable. The law is constant and true. A life of justice. 

Javert later has the opportunity one last time to catch Valjean and Valjean submits to Javert but Javert surprisingly lets him go free. Then Javert, going to the Seine river, throws himself in and kills himself. His death swallows up Justice so only Mercy can exist for Jean Valjean. 

Javert is the perfect figure of a good life without Christ: Justice. To parallel it to the reader - he is the law of at the Aaronic level. Life without Christ embodies rules, structure, punishment by the hands of authority. It doesn't give room to be spirit lead but is entirely focused on the written law and strict obedience to it. It is living a lower law and creates a world of black and white. Good and bad. Keep the rules - you are worthy. Break them, damnation. It will imprison anyone who isn't in lockstep with the law - even good people like Valjean. 

Jean Valjean is the perfect figure of life with Christ: Mercy. Life in Christ is what it is like to be born again. Like Jean Valjean, the higher law comes into effect. The reader sees that he is abiding in Christ and everywhere he goes, he is giving and lifting all those around him. Life flourishes under his care. He doesn't see a prostitute, he sees a cry for help. He doesn't see a burdensome child, he sees a need he can fill. He doesn't see an enemy, but a soul to turn for God. 

It's a great paradox which I've pondered on for a long time, things like Javert vs Valjean, Justice vs Mercy, strict obedience to the Law versus Unity with Christ. I think of the role of organized churches (those that administer the law) in the spiritual progress of fallen man. Church organizations have an important role, but it may not be what many suppose them to be. 

To continually live a life at an Aaronic level will inevitably bring out the Javert within us - a mind of professed self-righteousness and pious self-justification and the belief that their own church organization is the pinnacle of spiritual achievement. Perhaps those of the LDS and other restoration churches are among the most guilty of this. Many are familiar with the self-justified cry of "this (ours) is the only true church." Often there is idolatry by worshipping the organization as well as the apostles and prophets who administer 'the law'. 

Paul wrote to the Ephesians that "he (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets;...For the perfecting of the saints,...Till we all come in the unity of the faith, ...unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

When I took time to carefully ponder this meaning I could see that the organization of apostles and prophets is given for the perfection of man, and not because of it. It is a preparatory system - it's akin to living in Javert's world. When "unity" with God is sought for and and the "perfect man" is realized, then the organization of apostles and prophets will no longer be needed as all will be prophets. 
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I remember their sin no more.
— Jeremiah 31:34
That scripture describes those who literally receive their endowment directly from the Lord. People like Jean Valjean who are born again and made new - abiding continually in Christ. Such people are a fulfillment of the wise virgins and have become those that have achieved Unity with God, they have ceased exalting the law and the arm of flesh (2 Nephi 4:34) which administer it: 
D&C 49: 
56 And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. 
57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
It came as a surprise for me to recognize that the church organization is evidence of disunity and imperfection rather than the opposite. The purpose of all churches are to introduce carnal man into unity with God, to become one with the Father in the New and Everlasting Covenant. Ultimately one comes to realize that the church is the beginning, not the end. 

D&C 22 records a severe chastisement that was given because of a dispute taking place at the time of the necessity of re-baptism into the newly restored church. The saints placed too much faith in the water-dunking rather than in the new and everlasting covenant of becoming one (unity) with God. The third verse in D&C 22 is very revealing: "For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up onto me, even as in days of old."

The organization of apostles and prophets serves as a preparatory organization to instruct men and women where they need to be. However, like Javert who worshiped the law, one can erroneously elevate the organization, or those who lead it, into objects of worship. For fallen man's own benefit a preparatory church is given (restored as in days of old), complete with its organization (of apostles and prophets) that is perfect for the circumstances at hand, although still fallen and imperfect itself. 

I have had to ask myself, who do I most emulate - Javert or Valjean? Strict obedience to the law for salvation - or salvation through Christ alone? An eye for an eye, or love my neighbor as myself? Do I write names on the Temple Prayer roll and hope those less active will come back to church or go in my closet and plead for them to come to Christ? Is it the lamb on the altar which saved the Israelites, or the True Lamb without blemish which was slain? Is it the church and Temple attendance which saves or what the church and Temple point to which brings salvation? Justice - or Mercy? Aaronic level, or Melchizedek? 

Those that cling to the law find safety in it - like Javert - salvation is found in keeping the rules. But when the Lord calls you by name and extends to you His Mercy, just as the bishop called Jean Valjean brother and set him free spiritually, old things are done away and you are new and born again. The Law is then swallowed up and only Mercy remains.  

On my mission I taught about the importance of prophets and apostles. I would emphasize my point by drawing a wall and a group of people on one side and God on the other side and a prophet standing atop the wall. I would tell the investigators that because we're just common people, we need someone special, like a Prophet, to tell us what God is saying to His children. Looking back now, I understand I was teaching them an Aaronic level of obedience. Aaronic level teaches rules and depends on people to speak to and experience God for and in behalf of you (because you are  fallen and spiritually dead, like Adam). 

Missionaries give the Book of Mormon to each contact they make and teach that you too can know God for yourself and introduce the concept that Jesus loves all and does not favor based on color, gender, young or old. As you journey in the gospel you see that sacred things are shared openly, and frequently. I think of the first couple of chapters in the Book of Mormon and how open Lehi was right out of the gate - he tells you of  seeing angels, a sacred book, Christ, God, all of it. Joseph Smith emphasized this fact:
"God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, 'Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him who, remain the least to the greatest." TPJS 149 
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord (from personal revelation), they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds…”TPJS p.237

In Hebrews 3:8-11, Paul compares the Israelites of his day to their ancestors of twelve hundred years earlier. He reminds the Hebrews that the early Israelites rejected God's invitation to enter into His rest—into His presence—and thus provoked God to wrath by their refusal.

This Exodus account to which Paul is referring took place at Mount Sinai when God invited the children of Israel to ascend the Holy Mountain and meet their God face to face. But the children of Israel looked up at the quaking, smoking, fiery mount and refused to exercise the faith to go up. The frightened Israelites foolishly told Moses to go on their behalf (Exodus 20: 18-21).

In Doctrine and Covenants 84, the Lord explains what it was that Israel rejected:
“For without this priesthood no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord…swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness...” 
— D&C 84:22-25
It is sobering that it was unnecessary for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Had they exercised faith in Jehovah, who is mighty to deliver, they might have stopped those trials and entered speedily into the Promised Land. They were left with an Aaronic level of rules and commandments. Punishment and laws. Can you relate?

The Prophet Joseph remarked on Israel’s rejection:
“God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses (to speak with God face to face individually)… When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned. The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses (a prophet) and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law." 
— Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith, 244, 247

From this quote from Joseph Smith and Doctrine and Covenants 107:18-19, we learn that when God gives a people the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is the power and authority to ascend into the presence of God, they must come or be damned (halted in their progression).

In the dispensation that followed the death of Moses, the children of Israel had ceremonies, rites, festivals, and rules of conduct that preserved a message of redemption through a variety of symbolic acts and practices, especially the sacrifice of unblemished and innocent animals. The message was lost on many of those who performed them. I can see so much of myself in the children of Israel. Most of my life I didn't know how the priesthood worked or what the ordinances meant which I performed in the Temple. Perhaps you can relate to their and my experience?

Many Israelites who ignorantly performed the sacrifices presumed the rites themselves had a cleansing effect upon them, making participants better than other people. They prized their special relationship with God, which they believed the ceremonies celebrated. Can you relate? Have you ever felt that those that go to church and the Temple are more righteous or have more access to salvation and exaltation than those who don't?

These rites and dead works were performed daily from the time of Moses until the coming of Jesus Christ. However, the ceremonies were not intended to rid the Israelites of sin, make them holy, or set them apart as better than other nations. They were intended to bear testimony of the Son of God. It was always the Son of God who was intended to be the “lamb, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Despite this embedded ceremonial message they had practiced daily for more than a thousand years, the Jews not only failed to recognize Christ, they rejected Him.

Like the Israelites in Jesus day, and like Javert, I have too often missed the point of the ordinances we perform or the laws we keep, seeing the church or temple ceremonies as the end itself, rather than a tool which is designed to lead us straight to the Son of God. It isn't clinging to the Law which leads to salvation. Nephi shows us that it is clinging to the iron rod - the word of God spoken directly to us (pure revelation D&C 49:56-57) which leads to Salvation. It is only in and through Christ are we saved.

Who am I
Casting Crowns