Justice or Mercy?

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.” Psalm 118:1

One of my favorite movies is The Count of Monte Cristo starring Jim Caviezel, based, of course, upon the Alexandre Dumas novel by the same name. In the film, Caviezel’s character, Edmond Dantes, is unfairly put into the prison, Chateau d’If, after being betrayed by his best friend Fernand Mondego and his shipmate, Danglars, for transporting a letter from Napoleon off the island of Elba. On the wall of Dantes’ cell is an inscription that reads, “God will grant me justice.” Consumed by revenge, Dantes regularly uses a rock to trace the words to motivate himself during his thirteen year stay in confinement. He eventually meets a fellow prisoner, a priest, who reminds him that vengeance belongs to God. Before dying, the priest tells Dantes of the treasure of Spada and makes him promise to only use it for good, not revenge.

Dantes is able to escape due to a combination of providential circumstances and his own ingenuity. He then sets out to find the treasure which the priest had told him about. Once he acquires it, he takes on a new name, the Count of Monte Cristo, and proceeds to exact justice upon all those who betrayed him. In the process of seeking his revenge, he almost loses the love of his life, Mercedes, who had wed Fernand when she was falsely told that Edmond had been executed. She manages to soften his heart and reminds him that he cannot escape God. He repents of his hatred and vengeance and finds a new gratitude to God for all that he has been given. He realizes that the priest was right, and he promises to now use the treasure only for good.

Besides being an awesome movie because it’s set near the end of the Napoleonic Era in France and based upon a classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo can teach us multiple life lessons, especially ones concerning revenge and forgiveness. Dantes desperately wants God to grant him justice, but by the end of the story, he realizes that he needs to let go of his hatred. When we think about our lives, do we really want God to grant us justice? Don’t we rather need God to grant us mercy?

Thoughts of justice and revenge will lead to a cold heart and a dried-up life. We become obsessed with our hatred and anger. A much better way is to let go of the anger and let God handle our enemies. This attitude frees us up to enjoy the blessings that God has given us. Besides, we are not innocent ourselves. Have we not also done wrong to others? Do we want them focused solely on their desire to get us back for how we have injured them? Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44 to do four things to our enemies: love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. Isn’t that how we want others to treat us as well? Another good reminder is found in the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5:7, where Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

So, again, do we really want justice? No, what we should say is, “God, grant us mercy.” And like the above verse from Psalms says, we should be grateful for that mercy. Thank God that He is good and merciful. What a wonderful Savior we serve! Just remember, though, that God will treat you how you treat others. If you go around with a strict and severe measuring stick and a heart void of mercy, that may be how you will be treated as well. And that is a sobering reminder.

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