Revenge, the Bible, and The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite books. Dumas, a French author, is better known for writing The Three Musketeers, which, although more famous and perhaps more exciting than Monte Cristo, isn’t written as well and isn’t nearly as thoughtful of a book.

The plot of The Count of Monte Cristo is incredibly intricate, but in short, it is about how the life of a young sailor named Edmond Dantes is ruined by a conspiracy of four men who each have something against him (one man is jealous of his position on the ship, another is jealous because he likes Dantes’ girlfriend, another is threatened by knowledge that Dantes possesses, etc.). Dantes is sent to prison, where, through extraordinary measures he manages figure out the plot that had brought about his downfall and also discovers the secret location of a treasure of unimaginable value. Ultimately, Dantes escapes from prison, claims the treasure, and now, with untold wealth at his disposal and taking on the mysterious persona of the Count of Monte Cristo, vows to claim vengeance on those who wronged him.

The Count possesses a near godlike ability to bring his schemes and plans to fruition, and he begins to take down his enemies one by one. However, despite his success, the Count gradually realizes that he takes no real pleasure in the downfall of his enemies and that no amount of vengeance can bring back the life he once had. Ultimately, he realizes that the best course of action is to forget about revenge and move on with his life.

Many of us struggle to learn the learn the same lesson—as tempting as revenge seems to be, it doesn’t deliver what it promises and ultimately leads us worse off than before.

We live in a world of revenge; it’s something we see all the time. We’ve seen the stories of road rage on the news where drivers get upset because another car cuts them off and so they respond by ramming into the car. In the midst of a political season, we see politicians constantly escalate the level of personal attacks they make against one another, each determined to have the last (and most vicious) word. Even in church, you’ll find one Christian who is offended by another, and in response, refuses to ever work with that person again or gossips about them behind their back.

Here’s the problem with that, though: the Bible repeatedly affirms that vengeance should have no place in the Christian’s life, and that vengeance, instead, belongs to God. First, some famous words from Jesus on vengeance from Matthew 5.38-42:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul has a very similar take in Romans 12.17-21:
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It has been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison yourself and hoping that the other person gets sick. It’s also true for revenge (which is an outgrowth of holding a grudge against someone). If you have a grudge against someone and are tempted to look for vengeance, let it go. Revenge won’t make your life better, and it won’t make you happy, but it will damage you spiritually. In the words of Paul, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


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