Within the dark and heavy world of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, the coinciding stories of each character shift around themes of grace and legalism. The stories are immensely honest, such that we find ourselves somewhere in the novel, or perhaps all through it. The darkness is overwhelming because it is all too close to home, maybe as close as our own hearts. But the light is also real, and it stings our eyes and seeps into our hearts.
In this dark and honest world, life is not fair, it is not easy and the stories don't always go where you want them to go. Yet, the words of Victor Hugo himself push further: "Will the future ever arrive?" he asks, "Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? The ideal is terrifying to behold, lost as it is in the depths, small, isolated, a pin-point, brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds." The lives of Jean Valjean, Javert, and Cosette force us to perceive things we have maybe only half perceived, such that whatever we knew of shame and mercy and forgiveness are never the same. Their lives seemingly ask us to be aware of the brilliance of even the smallest of lights in the midst of a devastating darkness.
It is said of Christ in the Gospel of John, "In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."(1) Literally, John says that the light shines and the darkness could not "lay hold of it"; the darkness could not master it. Undoubtedly, as John penned the words that testified to the events which had unfolded before his eyes, his mind hastened back to the Cross, the darkness of that day—the unfairness, the ugliness, the confusion and regret of that overwhelming scene. And then he says boldly: Even in the jaws of darkness on the cross, the light of the world did not go out. The Light was not mastered by even the darkest moment in time.
El Greco, Allegory, boy lighting candle in the company of an ape and a fool - Fábula, oil on canvas, 1590.
His illustration is weighted with the reality of the waves and particles of light. Darkness cannot overpower it. It cannot catch it. It cannot comprehend it. And so John begins his testimony: Darkness could not grasp the one who is the light and life of men. In Christ is the life that death cannot understand, the light that cannot be overcome.(2)
James Stewart, the great Scottish theologian, challenged readers to ponder this: Jesus Christ is light incomprehensible by darkness. Writes Stewart, "The very triumphs of his foes Jesus used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to serve his ends, not theirs. They nailed him to the tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet. They gave him a cross, not guessing that Jesus would make it a throne."(3)
Christians remember the events of the cross as the day when the entire earth was covered in darkness and heavy with death. But the light of Christ would not be overcome. It was not mastered. For the Light shined in the darkness and the darkness showed us that the light was even stronger than we ever imagined. The Christian confession is that Christ is alive. Death did not conquer the vicariously human Son of God. But through death, he proved he is forever among us, that he is fully human and divinely at work—even in the jaws of darkness.
When death is near, when life is unfair, and our hearts break within us, God is not any less on the throne. Where darkness consumes, where it serves to discourage, where it threatens hope and life, the promises of God and the certainty of light will not be mastered. For in Christ is life and that life is the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) John 1:4,5.
(2) See John 1.
(3) James S. Stewart, The Strong Name (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1940), 55.