For years, he crafted an identity. His parents’ deaths gave him the identity of orphan. Hunger gave him the identity of thief by necessity. Repeated escape attempts from prison hardened him, and he earned the identity of criminal. Nearly twenty years as a prisoner transformed him into a desperate and broken man.
Then a chance encounter with grace introduced a new story, and following the guilt and shame he experienced after spitting in the face of the gift he’d been given, he began to work on a new identity.
No longer the thief, no longer the criminal, no longer the escaped convict known as Jean Valjean, he took on a new name. Monsieur Madeleine, he called himself. A new name, a new life, and a new city to call home.
But it wouldn’t be long before his previous life caught up with him. His former jailor, now an inspector with the police, sees something familiar in M. Madeleine and decides to investigate further.
When it seemed inevitable that he would be exposed for the thief and criminal he once was, a man bearing his face emerges as an escape from the ghosts of his past.
He soon faces the question of his own identity. Is he the criminal of so many years ago? Is he M. Madeleine, the benevolent mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer? Or is he someone completely different?
At some point in life we face the same questions Jean Valjean faced. Am I [insert sin here]? Or am I [insert accomplishments here]? Or is there something else that defines me?
Valjean’s conundrum in Les Misérables represents the problem that the world imposes upon each of us: what you do defines who you are. At work, you arrive at your position based on how much effort you put into your job. On your career path, you often receive your title based on the degree or certification program you completed before entering the workforce.
If you constantly make mistakes, you’re a failure. If you fight a losing battle with sexual immorality, you’re filthy and lustful. If you give in to your vices over and over again, you’re an addict.
How you live dictates who you are.
But for God, the complete opposite is true. Scripture tells us that who we are dictates how we live.
We are daughters and sons of God (Romans 8:14-15), so we can be joyful and grateful.
We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), so we share the incredible news that our King has come.
We are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3), so we can live freely because we have nothing to fear.
Suddenly we don’t have the pressure of living for something. Instead we can live from something—joy, peace, freedom.
Suddenly finding our identity is as simple as looking at our King.
Just know that even though it’s simple, it’s far from easy. This world is screaming other identities at us so loud that it can drown out the voice of the King. But if you listen, not for another deafening scream, but for a whisper, a “still, small voice,” if you will, you’ll hear him.
“You’re mine. Your identity is in me. You are my child, and I love you.”