Saturday, May 20, 2017
To love another person is to see the face of God
Last week my former housemate and fellow IJM UK intern got married in London, and I had the great blessing of being there for her wedding. While in London, I also got to see Les Miserables (That's a sentence I never thought I'd be able to write! I'm still a little in disbelief that it happened!). Dang. I could go on and on about this phenomenal work, but there were two things that struck me particularly.
Having memorized the soundtrack and seen the film, the story of Les Mis didn't surprise me, but what did surprise me was the experience of seeing the production with a live audience. At any given point in the musical, at least one person was crying. So many people love this story. This production has been translated into 22 different languages, has played in 44 countries, has been seen live by more than 70 million people worldwide, and is the world's longest running musical. There's something special about this story, something that responds to the longing of the human heart.
Much of our modern society (especially in the western world), from pain, fear, or disillusionment, has rejected absolute truth and left hollow our universal desire for divine justice. Life is chaotic and unfair, as reflected in the lives of Eponine and Cosette in Les Mis. These characters were girls together, both from humble circumstances, both prove to have compassionate hearts; but one is plucked from a life of misery and the other dies in it. Why is one saved and the other not? In life and in the play, we do not get direct answers.
At the end of this particular version of the musical, both Fantine and Eponine come to Jean Valjean as he's dying to guide him to paradise. At first I was confused - why Eponine? But her presence in that scene shifted how I see the whole play.
I always thought Les Mis was a bit moralistic (even though it presents the parallel stories of Javert who is destroyed by moralism and Valjean who is saved by mercy), because at the end of the story Valjean is ushered to paradise by Fantine for taking care of her daughter. His good deeds in response to the mercy extended to him by the priest redeems his former criminal life and he is rewarded with peace. He gets to see the face of God because he has loved another person.
Nope. The presence of Eponine and her singing along with Fantine the famous line, "to love another person is to see the face of God," made me realize I had it all wrong.
When Fantine tells Valjean, "You raised my child in love, now you will be with God," he responds, "She's (Cosette) the best of my life." I had thought he meant loving her was the best thing he had done in his life, when really, being able to love her was the greatest gift of his life.
Eponine helped me to see that. She too knows what it means "to love another person is to see the face of God," and that's why she is the character to appear alongside Fantine. Though her life was tragic it was not a tragedy. She too was given the gift of loving another person, even though Marius never romantically reciprocated her love for him. Being loved is a special gift, but truly, sacrificially loving another person is to literally participate in the greatest attribute of God, love Himself.