“Today I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you. If you break my covenant, you will quickly disappear from the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. You will live there only a short time; then you will be utterly destroyed. For the LORD will scatter you among the nations, where only a few of you will survive. There, in a foreign land, you will worship idols made from wood and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will search again for the LORD your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. In the distant future, when you are suffering all these things, you will finally return to the LORD your God and listen to what he tells you. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the solemn covenant he made with your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 4:26–31 NLT)
In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo tells the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict turned moral paragon and community leader. The impetus behind his redemption arc is found in a single interaction with Bishop Myriel. After the bishop provides Valjean’s first hot meal and warm bed in nineteen years – the time he’d spent in prison – Valjean repays this kindness by stealing the bishop’s silver cutlery and plates and fleeing in the middle of the night. When the police bring him back to the bishop the next morning, Myriel shows great mercy by telling the officer that the silver was in fact a gift and, on top of that, Valjean forgot the silver candlesticks. Later, Myriel tells Valjean, “Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.”
Valjean is true to his word, and throughout the novel, those two candlesticks continue to serve as a reminder to him of the person he resolved to be due to one man’s act of mercy.
As this passage in Deuteronomy tells us, God knew what would happen from the very start. Even before creating Adam and Eve on the sixth day, God knew what arc history would take and how necessary it would be for us to receive his mercy time and time and time again. Yet, God tells us that he will not abandon us or forget his promises. It might take longer than we’d like, and it will likely show up in an unexpected way, like the miraculous birth of a child to an unassuming family in an unremarkable town, but God will not fail to show us mercy.
God did not gift us candlesticks to buy our freedom, but we gave us his Son, the light of the world. Yet, unlike Jean Valjean, we do not always choose the right path or make the hard, but righteous, decisions, which is all the more reason to praise God for his unending mercy.
How have you seen God’s mercy at work in your life recently? Spend time in prayer, thanking him for being merciful and resolving to mend your ways so that you don’t repeat your past mistakes.