As I was listening to some music from Les Mis this week, I began to think about sin, Satan's tactics, our reactions, and the Atonement. In Les Miserables, Valjean commits the sin of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. His 19 years in prison do not suffice for retribution; like Cain, he bears the mark of his ill deed for all to see. He is forever a slave to this sin; people won't forget; people won't forgive, even though this misdeed did not directly impact their lives. His sin is continuously displayed, reminding him that he will always be a slave to his past mistakes.
Some people struggle with more obvious sins, and others - for whatever reason - are forced to wear their sins on their sleeves. When this is the case, no matter the size or quality of the sin, we tend to be more judgmental, less forgiving. As the villagers in Les Mis we seem to sing "You broke the law, it's there for people to see. Why should you get the same as honest men like me?", obliterating the memory of our own sins and replacing it with disdain for another's. We play God, taking it upon ourselves to judge and dole out terms of payment. In this manner, we slam the breaks on another's progression, forever detaining him in his sinful stage. We mute the possibility of change, place the label, and box him into a role of sinner.
Valjean's hope for freedom and a new life is quickly replaced with the reality of man's reaction to his sins. Valjean cries, "Now every door is closed to me. Another jail. Another key. Another chain... And now I know how freedom feels, the jailer always at your heels. It is the law!" The irony in the last line frequently makes me feel a bit guilty. The law should be there to make us free, not the opposite. It should enable us, provide us with new freedoms; but too often, because of our own insecurities and guilt, we cause the law to be restrictive and overactive. We hold past offenses over past offender's heads, as if to dare them to try and succeed with the Scarlet A we have branded them with.
After all this rejection, the bishop, instead of condemning Valjean for his ripe sin, provides Valjean with freedom, with a reason to hope and live. He enables Valjean a rebirth, to become the man that the bishop sees he can be. Through the bishop's gift, Valjean's previous sins are forgotten and he is allowed to move beyond his past mistakes. In this act of true selflessness, the bishop essentially pays for Valjean's sins with his silver - something that Valjean did not deserve and could never pay for. He abates those calling for justice and provides mercy to one sorely needing it. This gift is the true gift of freedom - freedom because the sin is no longer remembered, and freedom because it is given to start anew, disentangled from the past and its mistakes. Freedom from ourselves, freedom from other's judgments, and freedom from Satan's grasp.