Violent Grace. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Violence and grace. One intends to hurt, the other intends to heal. One is motivated by hate, the other love. Yet, the more I understand grace, the more I recognize it has characteristics of violence. Both are aggressive. Both are active. Both are often on the offensive. Yet, whereas violence intends to injure enemies, grace seeks to eliminate them.
In Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables, the main character, Jean Valjean, has an experience with grace that changes his life. An ex-convict recently paroled, Valjean is given a bed and warm meal by a local bishop. He abuses the priest’s kindness and runs off with his good silverware. The police catch him and take him back to the bishop’s house for questioning. Visibly angry, the bishop reveals how upset he is with Valjean for leaving so quickly without taking the silver candlesticks, worth far more than all the other silverware. He gives the candlesticks to Valjean, assures the police that the silverware was a gift, and encourages Valjean to promise to become a new man.
Please watch the powerful scene from the 1998 movie starring Liam Neeson below:
At this point in the book, Victor Hugo writes,
…the pardon of the priest was the hardest assault, and the most formidable attack which (Jean Valjean) had yet sustained…
What violent grace! It is aggressive, active, and it attacks the heart. And only grace, unlike violence alone, has the power to eliminate enemies by transforming them into friends. The bishop understood this, and Jean Valjean’s life was changed.
In a similar fashion, a Jewish man named Jesus died on a wooden cross, knowing that only through such a violent act of grace could we, enemies of God, be transformed into friends.
For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. ~Romans 5:10
Undeserved favor that is aggressive, active, and on the offensive…this is violent grace. If we’ve been shown it, then we should look for opportunities to show it to others. It has the power to change everything.
Just ask Jean Valjean.