I have been watching a BBC production of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, Les Miserables on television. This book is a moral treatise of monumental impact which explains why Les Miserables is considered a literary classic of the first order.
In last night’s episode, one of the main characters comments on an act of extraordinary kindness by another main character by saying, “You amaze me.” What makes the act truly amazing is the personal risk accepted by the one being kind. It is the kind of self sacrifice that describes heroism unequivocally.
A basic issue in the storyline is the question of the nature of mankind. Are we basically good or evil? Are we propelled one way or the other by life circumstances beyond our control? Are we especially righteous when we attempt to constrain and punish lawbreakers, or do we sink into the very evil we attempt to correct?
The protagonist in this story is a man who has experienced human cruelty and depravity to its utmost limits. By contrast he has also been amazed by human goodness that shocked him into that amazement. This personal background makes his own view of humanity especially significant. His background is not so unique.
We often speak religiously about an amazing God, one who displays amazing grace. The idea that one who knows all can forgive all is beyond amazing to the human mind. Knowing all the bad that happens sounds like enough to sickened the most benevolent heart. Yet, we claim that God can still love and forgive.
But that divine graciousness is supposedly conditional, involving doing something for God in return. Herein lies the rub. The caveat to this “amazing” picture greatly tempers the amazement. In fact, amazement turns to horror pretty quickly.
One has to wonder if God embraces a personal risk in his graciousness like the character in Hugo’s story. What loss could God suffer by being amazing? Is risk free love actually amazing, as amazing as that shown in Hugo’s novel? Intriguing questions for me.
I suspect that we need to see amazing kindness and compassion before we can demonstrate that in our own lives. Being shocked senseless by the depth of love is the most transformative force in the universe. If we are going to let God shock us into amazement and change our lives, some old theology has to be discarded first. Anybody ready to be truly amazed?