Tuesday, February 12, 2013

You'd think. . .

I saw Les Miserables a month ago or so and found it a wonderful film, rich with heroic and religious themes, built upon the idea of redemption and calling forth the kind of repentance that truly works to become what you desire.  In it you found the tensions between Law and Gospel. Valjean is moved by the Gospel that he stumbled upon in the form of a bishop who practiced what he preached with regard to forgiveness.  In response, Valjean's whole life was transformed and the redemption of his soul became the renovation of his life.  In contrast to Valjean and the power of the Gospel, you have Javert whose heart and soul is justice.  He find the Law an unrelenting taskmaster and, even when he himself is the recipient of mercy, he finds mercy so strange unsettling that he cannot reconcile himself to it.

I kept wanting redemption for Javert (though I had read Hugo's novel a long time ago and knew it was not in the cards).  That is way of the Gospel -- it is hope for the redemption of even the most unlikeable characters.  I found that I wanted redemption for Javert more than he wanted it for himself.  He was too comfortable with the Law and its incessant quest for justice without mercy.

In the same way I kept wanting the people to join the cause and overthrow all that Javert stood for but, as we all know, the doors and windows closed and left to the few a stand for something nobler but riskier -- freedom.

You'd think that everyone would be drawn to the Gospel, to freedom, to redemption, and to the repentant life that flows from this redemption.  Strangely, we are not all drawn to it.  In fact, we find a strange comfort, miserable though it might be, in the companionship of the Law.

Move forward a few centuries and what do I find in the news.  The good mayor of New York is at it again.  He wants to make fat people thin.  He wants to enforce what is good and best for people -- even if they are incapable or unwilling to choose it for themselves.  Now the focus is on those addicted to prescription pain killers.  My wife the nurse knows too much about this and anyone who has spent more than a few moments around an emergency room or ICU knows that these places are magnets for those seeking relief from pills for all the pains of their bodies and souls.  A staff member was rudely told by her new physician's office staff, "We don't prescribe painkillers on the first visit."  She had neither asked for them nor was she seeking them.  It just goes to show the kind of problem there is out there.

Anyway, Mayor Bloomberg has decided to do something about it.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city officials unveiled a new initiative to limit supplies of prescription painkillers in the city’s emergency rooms as a way to combat what they described as a growing addiction problem in the region. Some critics, as documented by The New York Times, however, felt the move would unnecessarily hurt poor and uninsured patients who use emergency rooms as their primary care doctor. Needless to say, Mr. Bloomberg was not swayed by this line of argument. “The city hospitals we control, so … we’re going to do it and we’re urging all of the other hospitals to do it, voluntary guidelines."  There is no shortage of Bloomberg's efforts and energy to use his office more as bully than bully pulpit for the things he things should happen but are not happening soon enough to please him.

Now I am all for rules and regulations but I am not so sure that an edict from the office of the mayor is the place to start.  What is even more intriguing is that Bloomberg is a liberal.  Liberals, like the rigid, right wing conservatives they deplore, find commonality in their use of laws, rules, ordinances, and regulation to make people do what maybe the right even when they are unwilling or incapable of doing do on their own.  You'd think freedom and lovers of freedom would choose another path but the idea of justice and legalized morality in which the state punishes offenders is too tempting to abandon in favor of conscience.

It is the dilemma of Les Miserables -- redemption and new life or legalized justice with no mercy.  The sad truth is that it is exactly this that Christian preaching struggles against -- we are too comfortable with the Law, too easily enticed by the false promises of justice, and too impatient to wait for people to know and decide for the right.  But, in the end, the only lasting transformation is redemption.  The Law works only insofar as or as long as the threat is worse than obedience and compliance.  It leaves the heart still unchanged and unconverted.  So even though you'd think the Gospel and its freedom would entice us, we find ourselves, sinful by nature, drawn to the dark side of morality legislated, content with justice as our hope, and strangely more at ease with misery we know than the risk of the Gospel.

No comments: