I recently watched the 1978 made for TV version of Les Miserables with Richard Jordan as Jean Valjean, Anthony Perkins (Psycho) as Javert and Claude Dauphin as the Bishop.
I found myself weeping uncontrollably during the scene when the Bishop forgives Jean Valjean and allows him to leave with all of his silverware.
And then I began thinking about Christian inspiration and what this means for the Lord’s One True Church.
Given the Christlike actions of the Bishop — and the undeniable witness I received from the Holy Ghost that Victor Hugo was inspired to write this scene by the Holy Spirit itself — what does it mean that Victor Hugo was not a member of the restored Church?
Of course Victor Hugo never had an opportunity to hear about the true Gospel, but it seems clear to me that he had a deep and profound understanding of the Atonement.
Javert is symbolic of “Justice,” a blind, unbending need for wrongs to be righted. The Bishop is symbolic of Christ-like mercy, the unselfish ability to give of oneself so that somebody else may live. Can mercy rob justice? No, not unless an atonement is made. Hugo clearly understood this, which is why Javert kills himself near the end of the movie, unable to understand how Jean Valjean could allow him to go free when Javert was filled only with the desire for seeing justice done. Justice cannot comprehend mercy — somebody must pay for the crimes committed.
And that somebody is Christ himself, of which the Bishop was an awe-inspiring symbol.
But yet Joseph Smith was clearly told that the Lord’s true Church was not on the Earth in 1820. Victor Hugo’s inspiration — filled with uplifting eternal Truths — is yet another great example that this statement, the fact that no other churches are True, is not meant to mean that the Lord sees things in a binary fashion. Religion is not 1s and 0s — it is a continuum.
As Joseph Smith himself said in 1842 (HofC: 4:588):
If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God, or possess the principles which God possesses, for if we are not drawing toward God in principle, we are going from Him and drawing towards the devil.
Joseph Smith was talking to the Saints when he said this. It seems clear to me that he was not saying, “join the one true Church, and everything will be alright.” Instead, he was saying to all people that religion is a continuum and that there is Truth everywhere. God wants you to become like Him, no matter who you are. Latch onto the Truth and draw closer to God.
I guess I see us all on a massive mountain hiking our way up to the top, where the Celestial Kingdom is located. If we follow the right paths, we will make it to the top and be able to be with God, but there are a lot of Truths that will help you get to the top. I personally feel that a person’s progress will stop if they don’t — in this world or the next — eventually join the true Church, but in the meantime there are True and inspired things all around us, and we need to be open to them.
This message was also brought home to me in reading an article linked on T&S today: “The Cultural Illiteracy of Easy Atheists.” The point was that today’s atheists are quick to imply that all good literature — Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are three examples often mentioned — does not need God. In fact, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were, like Victor Hugo, profoundly influenced by Christianity.
There are Truths everywhere — I wish we were all more open to see them.