"The opposite of faith isn't doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty" .
-Alan Jones, former Dean of Grace Cathedral
. Annie Dillard wrote that pews should come with seat belts, for a true experience of the holy will blow your socks off. Sometimes a true revelation doesn't simply show you something new: it also requires something of you, Most of all, perhaps it will require you to give up old ways of seeing and being in the world that are easily trod and well worn and predictable. A real revelation will demand that you enter a world pregnant with mystery and paradox, in a state of wonder. A real revelation might require you to demand more of yourself, but it will also open your hearts to be more compassionate to others. A revelation is a grace, no doubt about it- but it is a costly grace.
I imagine Les Miserables will sweep many an award for its cinematic grandeur, costume splendor, heart rending performances by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, and its lush score. But what I was most struck by is how Victor Hugo's story is such a priceless sermon on the difference between true faith and false faith.
Both Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean invoke the name of God for their actions and both reference scripture. Both men encounter a situation where they expect judgment and meet mercy. In the face of his revelation of grace, Jean Valjean surrenders to what is asked of him by such an action: he leaves his old identity and begins a new life, living from a new center of gratitude and compassion. Javert faces the same call, but he is so embedded in his ways of seeing the world in black and white, damned and saved, right and wrong, that he cannot recognize supreme goodness when it is before him. When he finally realizes that the world is far more complex than he ever imagined, he cannot tolerate it. He would rather die than give up his certainty.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God", says the author of Hebrews. The author knew well that doing so will unknit and remake you, and part of that journey will involve becoming less certain of most things. I take comfort that Socrates, too, knew this as well. When told that he was the wisest man in the world, he is reputed to have said that the one thing he knew was that he didn't know anything.
As I listened to the muffled ( and not so muffled) sounds of tears around me in the darkened movie theater, I thought how Victor Hugo's story is really the version of the gospel so many people long and need to hear: That God is about mercy, not judgment. Compassion, not condemnation. That it is possible to change and find a life of purpose, love and meaning even if you've been enslaved for twenty years. That the most important question is, can you stay open enough to embrace goodness when it appears before you? And are you able to let go of your old ideas in order to step into the larger vision of life and love that you are called to?
So today, I raise a toast: to not knowing. To not putting a period where God has placed a comma. To the mystery. To wonder. To the capacity to turn around, start anew and see the world with new eyes- eyes that can behold and embrace beauty and goodness whenever they appear before us. And to Les Miserables, which may well be the best sermon on costly grace and true faith that many of us will ever see. Be sure to bring a box of kleenex when you go. One of the things it will cost you is your tears.