"You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge." **
During our most recent cross-country drive, Sharla and I were listening to the audiobook of Les Miserables. Having journeyed through this book now a few times, it, like the Bible, has always found new ways to burst light into the shaded parts of my life, calling forth growth, teaching something poignant, and always, offering my soul comfort.
Why? Because, it's saturated with a myriad nuggets all grounded in Truth of the Bible. It is a story of the Gospel; it teaches the meek to embrace their humility and seek their restoration through a repentance from their selfish works, and, in turn, to pursue a dependence on Christ. Hugo's masterpiece is a timeless tale, feeding the soul with the realization that the Christian is not alone in his fatiguing journey in this land.This time, Les Mis preached to my wife and I the invaluablity of the testimonies of those brothers and sisters who have lived their own trying lives before us, so then to speak hope into our lives. As the first book came to a close, Sharla understandably questioned "Why is so much of this book devoted to the Bishop?" Now, in Les Mis, it is difficult to have one favorite character. All are relatable. But, for me, it is always a toss up between Valjean (obviously), and Myriel. Because of which, I've contemplated the Bishop of Digne's place in Hugo's tale many times now. However, this question prompted new contemplation.
What came to me was the beauty of the "prototype". Valjean is the lead protagonist. However, his story is one of struggle… "If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned." This juxtaposition, the relationship of his Christian conscience to that of his natural state of depraved instinct, is Valjean. So… to give him a lengthy conversion backstory could easily deter us from believing the potency of his depravity's influence in his mind. We do this with our own lives. We think that the Balrog (jumping novels, here) is not as big and dangerous at times, so we turn our backs. Thus, to stave off such reader-naiveté, Victor told us a tale of a man who'd been so consistently wronged, that he is now bitter, believing that he is what he's been told.
Nevertheless, where does the reader find a believability then in his desire for good, then? In Myriel! It develops partly in the slight few references of Valjean's being disciple by Myriel, and, predominantly, in the Bishop's own backstory. Without bleeding two characters together, or two stories into one indecipherable meld, we are given two separate backgrounds stories, the first propagating the next. Hugo masterfully accomplished this with the brief flick of a pen in book five, by addressing Valjean's mourning the Bishop's death:
"M. le Maire (Valjean) is doubtless a cousin of the late Bishop of D----?" He said, "No, Madame." "But," resumed the dowager, "you are wearing mourning for him." He replied, "It is because I was a servant in his family in my youth."
With this subtlety, the reader is lead into the very heart and mind of Valjean. We see that he was more than some brief occurrence, as the movie(s) and musical would have us believe. Myriel was his priest, his brother, his friend. He spent good time under him as his sheep.
This is our story, too. I, Jordan, am no one man... developing and constructing myself into the man that I am today. I am a conglomerate of attributed parts from the Bride of Christ. Our stories do not begin at our birth, but were being written generations before. Our Author, through Christ, is the prototype of our today. He has given us the image and identity to live by, which inevitably affects His people, who in turn pass that affection on to others, and so on.
So, it struck me as I was talking with Sharla, that Myriel's story is given such detail so as to offer the reader a glimpse into the heart which was being prepared long before hand, so as then to be passed over to Valjean at his time for love. Thus, Hugo did not leave us with some exhaustive description of Valjean's personal theological and missional system, possibly causing a divorce in our belief in his depraved nature. But neither did he leave us in want. He only told the life of a devoted Christian, which, for our purposes, seemed to culminate and develop into one specific end: the evangelism, saving, and equipping of Jean Valjean. Finishing the story, however, you realize Valjean's life was no different for those in his life. Myriel's story is long, but trudge through, reader. From the very beginning of the book, you are reading the life of the Christian Jean Valjean.
** Hugo, Victor (2009-04-21). Les Miserables (Kindle Locations 1401-1403 and 2806-2808). Digital Bibliotheca. Kindle Edition.