Les Miserables is "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Period.
Now, I know I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed say that the gospel is the greatest story ever told. And when I've suggested that Les Mis actually beats the Bible, every time someone in the crowd offers a "Jesus Juke."
You don't know what a "Jesus Juke" is? A "Jesus Juke"* is the Christian version of the Debbie Downer (if you don't know Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live, then this whole post is likely lost on you). It's when someone takes what is clearly a joke-filled conversation or a comment made in jest and completely reverses direction into something serious and holy.
So the conversation usually goes like this:
Collin: Did you know that Les Miserables is the greatest story ever told?
Super Christian: Hmmm...interesting. Have you ever read the Bible? I think Jesus would disagree.
Actually, both of us in the conversation are right. Because Les Miserables is the gospel written in 19th century disguise.
I've grown up knowing the gospel all of my life. I could name the 12 disciples before I left the womb. I could sing the "Books of the Bible" song before most of my friends at church knew that "Acts and the Letter to the Romans" was actually a book of the Bible.
The Bible is so familiar that I sometimes cease to be surprised by the shocking rescue mission of God, which is sad. And that's why it's so refreshing to read the Bible with someone who is encountering it for the first time.
Yet, Les Miserables wasn't a story I knew as a toddler. And the first time I watched it, I was completely shocked by the twists and turns of its storyline. And it's story of grace shocked my sensibilities. As I said in my first post about Les Miserables, I sided with Javert (Law) instead of Valjean (Grace).
Victor Hugo told the gospel in a way I had never heard it before and I didn't like what I read. He snuck in from the back and tore away at the foundations of my legalistic notions of the gospel. In essence, it proved that I had believed in a false gospel.
The reason I believe Les Miserables is the best story ever told is because it is the gospel story.
For most people who haven't grown up in church, their experience with Scripture is as shocking as my experience with Les Mis. But for me, it took Hugo's powerful novel to awaken me to the story of God's redemption through radical grace and constant love.
Scripture is the best story ever told (so you can take me off your heretic watch list).
But I believe one of the most important tasks in our time is to form artists and authors who will retell the story in surprising ways that subvert our imaginations and help us to the see the good news of God without ever mentioning a Bible character or words like "sin," "grace,""hermeneutics," or "Penal Substitutionary Atonement."
Hugo called it Les Miserables. Tolkien called it The Lord of the Rings. And Jesus called it a parable.
They all shock us. And they are all stories of "good news."
Or you might just call it Gospel.
*"The Jesus Juke" was a cultural term coined by Jon Acuff at his blog "Stuff Christians Like." If you like satire, pay attention to his blog. If not, stay away from it. Click here to read more about "The Jesus Juke."