It is a well-established fact among our family and friends that I love Les Miserables. I’ve even blogged about it a few times and am actually considering a short course, series, or ebook on the beauty of this story. While listening to the 25th anniversary album (again) the other day, I heard a line that beautifully expresses what forgiveness sounds like.
In this scene, Javert has been captured by the revolutionaries. While they are figuring out what to do with him, Valjean arrives and saves them from an attack. They are grateful and ask how they can repay him. Valjean asks for Javert so that he can “take care of him” and the revolutionaries agree.
Javert expects Valjean to kill him, since they have been rivals and enemies for so long. Valjean had constantly eluded Javert, but Javert hounded his every move so that Valjean could never have peace wherever he was. Javert’s persistence has caused Valjean to lose millions, to run like a fugitive, and to live in constant fear.
So when Valjean brandishes a knife, Javert expects the worst. But he is surprised when Valjean lets him go.
He thinks it’s a trick. Or Valjean is trying to bargain for his own freedom should he be caught later on.
But Valjean answers,
You are free. And there are no conditions. No bargains or petitions. There’s nothing that I blame you for.
That’s what forgiveness sounds like, telling someone there’s nothing that you blame them for.
To forgive means to cancel the debt. It doesn’t mean pretending that nothing wrong was done. It means acknowledging that wrong has been done, but you don’t expect the person to pay it back anymore. There’s nothing that I blame you for.
That sounds incredibly unrealistic and impractical. What motivated this response from Valjean?
Well, in the beginning of the movie, he experiences forgiveness from God. After a life of hatred and bitterness, he experiences forgiveness, trusting that in Jesus there is forgiveness of sins, and this allows him to forgive others. That’s the only way we can forgive the worst things done to us. When we experience God’s outrageous forgiveness, we can forgive outrageously as well.