If you were to ask me what my favorite movie is, I’d say that movies are for pagans. Now, if you were to ask me when I wasn’t pulling your leg, I would almost certainly respond The Count of Monte Cristo,which I’ve easily watched over 20 times.
Never heard of it? Well, let me set the scene for you. The story takes place in the late 1800s in France while Napoleon is in exile. It follows the story of Edmond Dantès, a young, simple man who has everything he’s ever loved and worked for snatched away from him.
Young Edmond was set to become captain of his very own merchant ship and marry his fiance, Mercedes. This was everything for Edmond since, being illiterate and living with his elderly father, it meant he would be able to climb out of poverty and provide for his family. The only problem with this were his haters.
His “friend” Ferdinand, who was jealous of Edmond’s sudden success, conspires with some very powerful people to get him sentenced to life in prison under trumped up charges in the French version of Guantanamo Bay.
While in prison, Edmond figures out the conspiracy against him with the help of a priest who befriends him. Turns out this priest was also a former knight with an extensive education. So while in jail, the priest teaches Edmond how to read and makes him a scholar in languages, science, culture, and even sword fighting.
After 15 years in jail, Edmond is able to escape with the help of the priest who sacrifices himself so that Edmond can get a second shot at life. Before dying, the priest tells Edmond the location of a vast hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo and warns him against seeking revenge because it would not fill the hole in his soul.
Then, Edmond secures the treasure and returns to Masailles, only to find that everyone believed that he was dead. During this time, his father died of starvation and a broken heart, his “friend” Ferdinand has married his ex-fiance Mercedes, and the powerful people who conspired against him were even richer and even more powerful. Everything that Edmond had worked so hard for has been torn apart by people who could have easily have just left him alone.
So, Edmond takes his new found wealth and knowledge, assumes the new identity of The Count of Monte Cristo (get it, eh, eh?) and goes on a streak of… you guessed it… revenge. And not just any revenge either. He gets revenge in some of the most elaborate and gratifying ways imaginable. However, as the priest warned, revenge is leaving him empty inside and angry rather than giving him the peace he was looking for.
In many ways we can relate to Edmond. While we’ve probably never been rich or had our life’s work snatched away, we have probably all been (or at least felt) wronged by others at some time. We have experienced feelings of hurt, betrayal, anger, and frustration at the action or inaction of others, such as:
- When others gossip about you behind your back.
- When people take personal shots at your character rather than focus on solutions.
- When friends don’t stick up for you.
- When the General Conference votes don’t go the way you think they should.
How do you respond to these things? One of the hardest ministry lessons for me has been developing thick skin while also developing and maintaining a tender heart for people.
Have I figured it out? Nope. But I have learned a few important points along that journey thanks to the Count of Monte Cristo.
1. As far as possible, always seek peace.
There is a difference between seeking peace and seeking to keep the peace. I’m not suggesting that you are to always remain silent and be anyone’s punching bag in order to keep the peace. I’m suggesting that, even in conflict, you aim to be a peacemaker by your words and demeanor.
Note that the absence of conflict is not necessarily a good good thing. Conflict can actually be a good thing when it’s harnessed well.
When people sit around and don’t address clear conflict among them, that’s not seeking peace. That’s appeasement and leads to resentment. The main idea for this is found in Romans 12:17-21:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Another way of saying this is don’t waste your time trying to get back at everyone that you feel has slighted you. Sometimes, you have to let some comments slide and keep going. Winston Churchill said it best:
You will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks.
2. Don’t burn any unnecessary bridges.
Notice that I didn’t say not to burn bridges. Some bridges are actually necessary to burn. Other bridges may lead to frenemies (that’s a person with whom one is friendly with despite being at odds or having fundamental disagreements).
The trick is learning which bridges you need to set ablaze and which ones to keep. In some cases, you may need to completely cut someone off from your life and love them from a distance. A relationship may have to be cut off from:
- Someone who is verbally abusive or has an otherwise overly toxic personality.
- People who engage in unethical behavior or activity.
In these cases, it may be worth just cutting your losses, never speaking again, and moving on.
3. Remember Divine justice.
One of the most memorable scenes in the Count of Monte Cristo was when Edmond was stuck in his cell at the beginning of his sentence at this prison, Château d’If. He saw on the wall that someone had written “God will give me justice.” He traced over that message every day for almost eight years to the point that it had become well-worn in the rock. It is even the last scene in the movie, a very fitting end to an awesome story.
When we feel wronged, if we forget that God will one day settle all accounts, we will feel that it is our responsibility to pay others back for their actions. If God exists and is truly the perfect mix of love and justice, it would stand to reason that at some point He will make all things right; no one will simply “get away” with anything. As Christians, if we truly lean on that, we can respond appropriately to challenges we can manage and leave the difficult cases to God.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that to really hold any non-violent stance as a response to injustice requires divine justice as a prerequisite; I don’t know how you can have one without the other. Otherwise, you face the possibility of evil and injustice going unchecked. This doesn’t mesh with our own internal sense of justice or the larger Biblical narrative.
I tried to deliver a spoiler-free synopsis of the movie (keyword: tried) but check it out to see the resolution. In Edmond Dantès’ case, although he could not take back the years of false imprisonment, bring his father back form the dead, or live the life he originally wanted, it’s amazing to consider that he was able to gain more than he could have ever imagined by going through his trials. In the end, God did give him justice.
At the end of the day, the best way to take revenge on your enemies is to love them, be successful, and keep moving. Develop a thick skin. Love people. God will give you justice too. It might not be in this life, but certainly in the end.
How have you dealt with injustices in your life? Share below!