One of my all-time favorite works of literature, which has also found its way onto the silver screen on multiple occasions is Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo.
Both the book and the more recent theatrical version represent different concepts in the end. The 2002 film, featuring Jim Caviezel as the protagonist Edmond Dantès, was very well made and became a favorite of mine for its entertainment value. However, the movie fell tragically short in representing the original messaging that Dumas meant to deliver.
It was presented to a very American audience which focused on personal redemption through revenge. Edmond, a poor young man, grew up with a wealthy friend named Fernand. Fernand held jealousy over Edmond because he was always content within his humble circumstances. Edmond fell in love and Fernand sought ways to take from his old friend this most important relationship. Fernand framed Edmond for an act which had him permanently sent to a prison and as Fernand took advantage of Edmond’s love interest’s pain, he married her. However, upon a wild escape, Edmond came across a treasure, created an alias, and spent the remainder of the movie strategizing ways to get his enemies back for the damage that they had done. In-so-doing, he won back his old love and a relationship with his son whom he had not previously known. In the end, modern-day Americans – myself included – were very entertained by personal redemption purchased with revenge. Edmond went from rags to riches and from happiness to heartbreak and back to happiness once again through the ruthlessness in which he engaged his life-long friend and others involved.
In the book, however, a major theme is that Edmond’s desire for revenge distracted him from the love that should have been the key to redemption. This marred his understanding of the relationship between God’s will and justice. In the book, Edmond finds redemption in reframing his perspective and rooting his worldview in a maturing sense of love. Rather than the book ending with a continuation of his old romance, he finds that his lessons learned inform a new life with a new love and a new family. In the book, the secret to redemption was love, not revenge. It was growth and progression into a more complete human being, not leaning into hate and judgment.
From a Jewish perspective, the true answer is shalom. Shalom is not peace as we understand it in our English language, but it is so much more complex and holistic. Shalom is not simply an end to which we seek, but it is even the means that we pursue along the way. It is not simply the winning of a war, but it is the God-glorifying process of becoming who God means for us to be in the meantime.
Can we engage Dumas’s story from this line of thinking then? Should we see the Christian life as one that brings about Christ’s redemption through punishing those who oppose us, as the Americanized movie presents? Or should we see the Christian life as one that brings about Christ’s redemption through His crowning attribute – love – as the book presents? Hatred or love? Punishment or sacrifice? Revenge or shalom?
As Christians, we choose to follow Christ, the Messiah who hung on a cross to save those who spat in His face. He was not a military leader who sought to win by force. He came in the flesh, experienced this world, and purchased our redemption through sacrificial love and so we ask ourselves – what does that kind of sacrificial love look like today?
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff