Theology of Fun: Excited Enjoyment

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

1 TImothy 6:17, ESV

I have managed to write a lot about fun without defining it, but my new working definition is “excited enjoyment.” Dictionaries seem to define “fun” as mere enjoyment, but this seems to be too broad. Fun comes from the excitement of novelty, creativity, competition, fear, arousal, or anticipation. Fun has the power to absorb our focus to the extent that it is tied to strong emotions. This is why fun is so memorable.

You can enjoy something that is comforting, relaxing, good, tasty, or beautiful without having fun. A steak is enjoyable, an onion ring volcano is fun. Cuddling is enjoyable, foreplay is fun. Sunbathing is enjoyable, body surfing is fun. The beatitudes are enjoyable, imagining a man with a plank in his eye trying to remove a speck from his friend’s eye is fun.

The previous paragraph is too simple, because the line between fun and other types of enjoyment is subtle. A software programmer might have a mild enjoyment of his work, or he might have fun as his logic and creativity are absorbed by his task. An adult may experience a ferris wheel as a pleasant ride while a child is full of wonder and excitement at being raised to new heights. Wine tasting is a fun method of enjoying aesthetic pleasure.

God made the world lively and diverse, full of new experiences and challenges. It is good to enjoy these things, and it is also good to be excited about them. God commands his people to enjoy food and drink, work and rest. I expect to write a future post on the importance of celebration in the Bible. This is not necessarily a command to have fun, but having fun is one important way that we enjoy God’s creation. The world is an exciting place, and this shows that God does not want our enjoyment of it to be monotonous.

The excitement associated with fun can be addicting and destructive. When we seek fun apart from God and His righteousness, it can become a powerful idol that demands more novelty and transgression. The Puritans, along with many other Christians, almost never commend fun without warning of its dangers; but this caution is often a killjoy. My advice for now is to follow these three simple guidelines, and then lighten up and enjoy yourself: 1. obey God, 2. don’t neglect your duties to your neighbor, 3. praise God for whatever you enjoy.

As Paul knew how to be content with abundance or need (Philippians 4:12), Christians should learn to be happy with or without fun. Fun is an opportunity to glorify God, spread joy, and build community; but in difficult times when fun is hard to find, Christians are sustained by the deeper joy they have in God.

Natural Theology of Fun in Anne of Green Gables

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

James 1:17, NASB

When I started studying “theology of fun,” I was skeptical of anything that did not argue straight from the Bible. However, there is a place for learning from general revelation. In the beginning, God made everything, and it was all very good. We can learn a lot about God and His intentions for the world just by looking at the world with open eyes, even when God’s good creation is perverted by sin. Goodness and beauty are inseparable from truth, because God’s true intentions for the world can be seen in everything that is good and beautiful.

Anne of Green Gables seems to intentionally refute anti-fun Christians by showing that fun and creativity are good and beautiful, and therefore come from God. The foil for this perspective is Marilla, a woman obsessed with appearing proper in the eyes of her neighbors. Marilla is introduced with the best sentence of the book:

Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously; and here she sat now, knitting, and the table behind her was laid for supper.

Marilla fails to see the goodness of sunshine because she refuses to believe in one of its God-given purposes. The sunlight dances across the beautiful scenery, illuminating life and producing joy. The proper inference is that God intended for the world to be lively, to be actively enjoyed for His glory. If God made the sunlight to dance, perhaps he also made humans to dance, joining and observing the joyful movement of the cosmos. Marilla cannot see the goodness of dancing because she reasons from the bad premise that life should always be serious.

Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves; her dark hair showed some gray streaks and was always twisted up in a hard little knot behind with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it. She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor.

This description is an unflattering depiction of the rigidity that Marilla strives for; there is nothing attractive about hard angles. The thing that would make Marilla beautiful would be a sense of humor. The ability to lighten up and have a good time is not only socially appealing, but enhances a person’s physical appearance. This beauty shows the goodness of fun like a rose shows the goodness of sunlight. The beauty is a sign of life, and it is nourished by the enjoyment of friendship. A person without a sense of humor is not reaching her full potential, like a flower that fails to bloom in the shade.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but I think I’ve managed to make this point: God intended humans to actively enjoy His world together, to build community and glorify their Creator.

Theology of Fun: Aquinas on Fun as Rest

Christianity has a history of being anti-fun. After all, what role could fun have in a sober life of self-denial and service? The medieval scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas saw that it would be irrational and sinful to exclude fun from the Christian life, because fun is a necessary form of spiritual and mental rest.

Augustine says (Music. ii, 15): “I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work.” Now this relaxation of the mind from work consists in playful words or deeds. Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man to have recourse to such things at times. Moreover the Philosopher [Ethic. ii, 7; iv, 8] assigns to games the virtue of eutrapelia, which we may call “pleasantness.”

I answer that, Just as man needs bodily rest for the body’s refreshment, because he cannot always be at work, since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor, so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, q. 168

Aquinas goes on to support the use of fun as spiritual rest from a story told by the desert fathers. The apocryphal story about the Apostle John makes the point that a man can only do his best work if he takes time to rest. Aquinas seems to tell the story inaccurately, so you can read the primary source in the screenshot below:

John Cassian, The Conferences of the Desert Fathers xxiv, 21
http://www.documenta-catholica.eu/d_0360-0435-%20Cassianus%20-%20Institutes%20of%20the%20Coenobia%20and%20the%20Remedies%20Vol%202-%20EN.pdf

But play and joking are not only for our own benefit. Though he sees more danger in excessive fun, Aquinas argues that “there is a sin in lack of mirth:”

Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment. Wherefore Seneca says (De Quat. Virt., cap. De Continentia): “Let your conduct be guided by wisdom so that no one will think you rude, or despise you as a cad.” Now a man who is without mirth, not only is lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since he is deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. iv, 8).

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, q. 168

Conclusion

The Bible teaches Christians to live in cycles of work and rest. God ordained night, the Sabbath, and feasts as times to rest. In times of rest we gratefully enjoy God’s creation, and are refreshed so we can gladly go back to work. Jesus understands the Sabbath as a gift to man to bring wholeness:

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Mark 2:27-3:5

Just as Christians should rest and let others rest, Christians should have fun so that they and others may be refreshed. The spiritual and mental rest that we enjoy in games and jocular conversation is a gift from God that should be gratefully enjoyed and shared.

Theology of Fun: The Logos at Play

For the Logos on high plays,

stirring the whole cosmos back and forth, as he wills,

into shapes of every kind.

Gregory Nazianzen, quoted in Man at Play by Hugo Rahner

In chapter 1 of Man at Play, Hugo Rahner expertly traces the concept of “Logos at play” from Proverbs 8, to Greek philosophy and myth, to church fathers, to medieval thought. In Rahner’s words:

It is that both creation and incarnation are expressions of God’s love, and this love, though full of meaning and purpose, is a love that works in creative freedom wholly ungoverned by necessity or constraint…

God’s acts of creation and providence are play because they are meaningful but not necessary. They are done from joy, and not from any external constraint. God shows off what He can do, playing with men and making things for them to play with. The main Bible passage behind this doctrine is this statement from lady Wisdom:

then was I beside him as artisan;

A I was his delight day by day,

B playing before him all the while,

B’ Playing over the whole of his earth,

A’ having my delight with human beings.

Proverbs 8:30-31, NAB, chiastic structure mine

Observant readers might notice that I use a Catholic translation above, and this is because Protestant translations tend to use the mild word “rejoicing” instead of “playing” here. This is a mistake because “rejoicing” does not necessarily imply fun, but fun is never absent when this Hebrew word is used. It is variously translated “laugh” (the basis of Isaac’s name), “play,” “celebrate,” “dance,” “amuse,” “mock,” etc. Yahweh delights in His Wisdom as she has fun helping Him create the world.

But no translation is perfect, and I think the NAB makes a mistake by ending with “human beings” instead of the literal translation “sons of men” (or even “sons of Adam”). Since Adam’s sons were born after the fall, this literal translation continues Wisdom’s delight into the fallen world in which we meet Cain and Abel, Lamech and Enoch, Nimrod and Abraham. We are Wisdom’s workmanship and delight even today through God’s wise providence.

There is a long Christian tradition of applying this description of Wisdom to God the Son, the Logos. Like Wisdom, He was eternally begotten by the Father, the Father delighted in Him, and all things were made through Him. But whether or not Wisdom merely represents God the Son, this passage teaches that God’s acts of creation and providence are a form of play.

Application and Fun Encanto Reference

I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice… Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, for blessed are they who keep my ways.”

Proverbs 8:20, 32, NASB

Rahner explains that we are God’s play things, and the world is given to us as our play thing. God plays by making things from nothing, and we play by creatively using what He made. God delights in Wisdom’s play, and, when we walk in her righteous paths, God delights in our creative play as well. We were made to rule over creation in God’s place, taking the materials He made and bringing them to their telos. We create families, houses, graphics, and products. We write stories, software, music, and instructions. We invent recipes, dance moves, workflows, and games. Whether at home or at work, we play when we joyfully add creativity into our tasks.

The powerful fun of creation is illustrated in “What Else Can I Do?” in Encanto. During this song, Isabella casts off artificial constraints and creates with joy and self-expression instead of mere utility and “perfection.” She tests the limits of her abilities and creates a stunning variety. She also plays with her sister by dancing, taking risks, and getting messy; through this creative play they get to know each other better, and organically grow more fond of each other. On the surface it looks like a rejection of beauty, work, and femininity, but in reality these are brought to their potential as Isabella joyfully brings all of her creativity into her creation. There are no straight lines in nature, and this complexity adds to its beauty. The work that Isabella has put into being the stereotypically perfect young woman allows her to play with a very feminine agility, balance, and flexibility, like a master pianist who can express herself even while playing sheet music.

Play in Les Miserables and Isaiah

Some of the themes about fun I have been drawing out of the Bible are illustrated in a great work of literature. If you have seen the movie, you will remember that the orphan Cosette lives with the swindling Thenardier family, and is mistreated by them until she is adopted by the repentant criminal Jean Valjean. This story as told in the original novel demonstrates the goodness of play, the potential of sin in play, and the prerequisites of play; and it illustrates why we can play in the Kingdom of God.

The Goodness of Play

Among the great cruelties of the Thenardiers is their refusal to give Cosette a doll. Cosette gazes into a shop where an expensive doll is for sale, and to her it looks like paradise. The doll “was joy, splendour, riches, happiness.” Cosette is rarely allowed to play with a toy sword, and she dresses it up and sings it to sleep. The narrator explains:

The doll is one of the most imperious necessities, and at the same time one of the most charming instincts of female childhood. To care for, to clothe, to adorn, to dress, to undress, to dress over again, to teach, to scold a little, to rock, to cuddle, to put to sleep, to imagine that something is somebody–all the future of woman is there. Even while musing and prattling, while making little wardrobes and little baby-clothes, while sewing little dresses, little bodices, and little jackets, the child becomes a little girl, the little girl becomes a great girl, the great girl becomes a woman. The first baby takes the place of the last doll. A little girl without a doll is almost as unfortunate and quite as impossible as a woman without children.

Play is inherently “charming,” and is also useful for preparing a child for the important work of adulthood. It practices and displays the good functions of humanity, including the creativity that imitates God (see Theology of Fun: The Play of Creation). The Thenardier girls further demonstrate their creativity by dressing up their cat and enacting a story in which one girl is surprised at how hairy the other girl’s baby is. As we reflect God’s creativity and display the goodness of humanity, we bring glory to our Creator.

Finally, play brings happiness. When Jean Valjean meets Cosette, she is ugly because she is unhappy. When they move into a convent together, one of the best results is that Cosette is allowed an hour of play every day.

At the hours of recreation, Jean Valjean from a distance watched her playing and romping, and he could distinguish her laughter from the laughter of the rest. For, now, Cosette laughed. The gloomy cast had disappeared. Laughter is sunshine; it chases winter from the human face.

The result of this joy is that, when Cosette is fifteen years old, she is remarkably beautiful. The sunshine of laughter causes the rose to bloom.

The Potential Sin of Play

While the Thenardiers beat Cosette and force her to work, there is a group of drinkers constantly having a lot of fun. They laugh and sing an obscene and blasphemous song while completely ignoring Cosette’s plight. Rather than enjoying and displaying the goodness of creation for the glory of God, they pervert creation and dishonor Jesus; and their complete lack of seriousness prevents them from helping Cosette.

The Prerequisites of Play

Unlike the drinkers, Jean Valjean is determined to bring joy to Cosette. There are three related things that prevent Cosette from playing. First, she is terrified of Mrs. Thenardier. Second, she is forced to work with few breaks. Third, she does not have a doll. Jean Valjean has the means and the desire to overcome these obstacles. As Mrs. Thenardier makes Cosette knit stockings, Jean buys the unfinished stockings at an outrageously high price so that she will be free to play. After Mrs. Thenardier kicks Cosette for touching the girls’ doll, Jean buys the doll that Cosette had dreamed of from the shop. Unlike the drinkers, Jean Valjean is serious about letting children play.

Play in the Kingdom of God

Jesus, through his seriousness and suffering, buys His people the freedom to play. When we were slaves to fear, sin, and poverty, he bought our lives at the cost of his. By creating perfect peace, He frees us to play:

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

Isaiah 11:8, ESV

Today we can play because the security, righteousness, and wealth of the new creation are already ours. And yet we are serious, because Jesus has called us to follow his example of laying down our lives to bring others into the joy of His kingdom. We are playful in our seriousness because nothing can take our eternal joy, and we are serious in our playfulness because our present joy is a foretaste of God’s eternal kingdom, bought at the high price of Jesus’ blood. The church must have fun, praise God for its freedom, and welcome the world into its joy.

Theology of Fun: Fun and Romance

Romance is more than fun, but fun is part of romance.

Abimelech knows that Rebekah is Isaac’s wife when he sees them laughing together (Genesis 26:8). They let the cat out of the bag by having more fun than siblings should have together. A husband and wife can laugh, play, and enjoy each other with an incomparable intimacy.

The lovers in the Song of Songs run together (Song of Solomon 1:4), not because of danger or urgent need, but from joy and excitement. Solomon leaps around like a gazelle, peeking through windows and lattices at the most beautiful woman, and invites her to join in his frollicking (Song of Solomon 2:8–10). Later, the play becomes more intimate:

Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit.

Song of Songs 7:8-9, ESV

The final verse of Song of Songs ends just as playfully:

Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.

Song of Songs 8:14

Among the many joys of romance and marriage is a unique, playful intimacy. Lovers are swept by powerful emotions to laugh, run, and play together. Safety, joy, and desire overflow into active enjoyment. Romantic fun is a gift from God, and should be enjoyed for His glory.

Theology of Fun: The Play of Creation

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom have you made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

Here is the sea, great and wide,

which teems with creatures innumerable,

living things both small and great.

There go the ships,

and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

Psalm 104:24-26, ESV

Creation as Play

In chapter 3 of Theology of Play, Jürgen Moltmann compares God’s act of creation to play. Like play, creation is unnecessary, because God does not need anything. God’s creation is a theater in which He displays and enjoys His glory. He shows off His abilities by making a variety of creatures with unique appearances and abilities. The ocean especially is full of bizarre creatures, and every one glorifies God in its own way.

The Play of Creatures

God’s creation glorifies Him by playing. When animals play, they show off the abilities that God gave them. A deer leaps, a bird swoops and sings, two dogs wrestle, a humpback whale does a cannonball, a gorilla steals something from a silverback and runs. A boy balances on a ledge, a girl takes care of a doll, a woman moves her hips to music, a man throws a 40-yard pass. In all of these actions, we see the goodness of God’s creation.

Play as Creation

As God’s image-bearers, humans imitate God’s act of creation in their play. Whether we are imagining, doodling, role-playing, or playing a game, play creates a little world with its own facts and rules. This can be seen in the games the children are playing in Matthew 11:16–17. They may pretend to be dancing at a wedding, or mourning at a funeral. A good playmate would enter the imaginary world and feel emotions appropriate to the story. Jesus condemns his generation for being like the spoilsports who won’t play any of these games.

Theology of Fun: Fun is Good

“Theology of fun” is a phrase you might hear from a youth pastor, but what does it mean? The importance of the subject is clear, because fun and play are naturally an important part of our lives. If the Bible does not approve of fun, then everything from watching football to playing with our kids is a “guilty pleasure.”

And yet there is surprisingly little written on this subject. My initial Google search was not very fruitful, though I’ll link to two helpful articles at the end of this post. Some articles are about “why you need a theology of fun,” and others are about “my personal theology of fun.” The confusion that exists on this topic is hilariously epitomized at the end of an opinion article in Baptist News: “Fun needs to be a part of our Christian lives. I’m pretty sure it’s in the Bible — somewhere.”

So I hope this post will be my first of many contributions to this subject. The point of this post is that play, dancing, and laughter are blessings from God.

Play is a Blessing

Thus says the LORD of Hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

Zechariah 8:4-5, ESV

The kingdom of God is marked by the blessings of old age and joyful children. This is a picture of peace, joy, and abundance– the children can play because there is nothing to fear, and their lives are not consumed with labor. Childrens’ play is not only a means to an end, but is itself a blessing to be enjoyed.

Dancing is a Blessing

Their bull breeds without fail;

their cow calves and does not miscarry.

They send out their little boys like a flock,

and their children dance.

They sing to the tambourine and the lyre

and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.

Job 21:10-11

Job complains that the wicked are blessed by God. The verses cited here are an expansion of the blessings described in of Deuteronomy 28:4, and give a beautiful picture of the abundant life that God can give. The word translated dance here literally means leap around. These children are bursting with joy and energy, and the result is a fun dance.

Laughter is a Blessing

And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; and everyone who hears will laugh over me.”

Genesis 21:6

Sarah praises God for giving her laughter. The unexpected joy in ironic circumstances climaxed with laughter at God’s unusual providence. This creates a memorable story that is still fun to read. Isaac is a gift from God, and so is the laughter he brings.

Recommended Resources

https://joeiovino.com/2011/07/08/a-theology-of-fun/

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/holy-play

Hannah’s Song and Jesus’ Power

Jesus is often depicted as powerless, or as seeking to give up his power. Representative is this quote from a recent article:

One of the things that defined Jesus’ ministry was that his authority never sprung from an (earthly) title he held, nor did he cling to power. In fact, he gave it up at the cost of his life, which of course, changed everything. Real authority doesn’t spring from an office, a title, or power. It springs from humility, love, and a clear sense of how the Kingdom of God is advancing in the world.

Carey Nieuwhof, 12 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2022 and the Post-Pandemic Era

You can see that Nieuwhof tries to be nuanced, saying that Jesus had real authority that came from a heavenly title, and that his death changed everything; but his use of the word “power” is imprecise at best. What does it mean to say that Jesus’ authority did not come from power? What kind of power did Jesus give up?

A better way to describe Jesus’ releationship to power is to say that he does not need inferior forms of power, because his power comes directly from God. He has the power to calm storms, raise the dead, feed thousands, and forgive sins. His earthly titles (e.g. son of David, king of the Jews, rabbi) carried real authority because they were backed by God’s power and authority. And because of his humble obedience to God, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Today he is seated at the right hand of God with all authority in Heaven and on Earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules the nations with a rod of iron, commanding the rise and fall of empires, guarding his church with legions of angels, killing and bringing new life.

Hannah predicted a king like Jesus. Her song teaches that the Lord has the power to undo any inferior form of power: bows (1 Samuel 2:4), bread and children (1 Samuel 2:5), life (1 Samuel 2:6), wealth and positions (1 Samuel 2:7). His power is greater than anything else in the world, because He created the world (1 Samuel 2:8). Those who are faithful to God will be guarded by His power, and the wicked will be destroyed by it; and this is more important than human strength (1 Samuel 2:9). This is the power that will allow God’s anointed king to defeat all of his enemies and judge the ends of the earth (1 Samuel 2:10).

Jesus is not the first king anointed by God and strengthened by His power. Samuel anoints Saul, turning a coward into a warrior until the Spirit leaves him. Samuel anoints David, and the Lord sustains him when he appears to be powerless. Hezekiah is saved by the angel of the Lord, and Josiah is commissioned to bring repentance and judgment. Their earthly titles carried real authority to the extent that they were backed by God’s power.

Jesus fulfills this pattern to the greatest extent possible. As the sinless Son of God, there is no doubt that the power of God will guard him and strengthen him. He receives the nations as his heritage (Psalm 2:8) and waits for God to make his enemies into his footstool (Psalm 110:1). He has no need for earthly wealth or friendship with Caesar, because God’s power is more than sufficient.

In the kingdom of God, the righteous are blessed by the power of God. By the power of God the poor receive the kingdom of heaven, those who mourn are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied (Matthew 5:3–6). Receiving hardship for Jesus’ sake is a blessing because of the reward that God will give (Matthew 5:10–12).

Application

I write this, in part, to avoid the bad applications that some make from Jesus’ apparent powerlessness. Nieuwhof’s point in the passage quoted above is that it is okay if people do not respect the office of pastors or of other leaders, because our authority comes from our character. I could agree with this if I qualified it enough, but what Nieuwhof seems to be saying is that leadership positions do not carry inherent authority, and I think this is wrong. Kings, pastors, and CEOs are appointed by God, and rule with some of His authority. Even bad leaders like Saul or the Pharisees should be respected because of their position (1 Samuel 24:6, Matthew 23:2–3). Jesus did have positions and titles, and they were no less powerful when they were not respected by the world. When Jews did not obey the King of the Jews, it was their loss.

Should Christians seek earthly power? Yes, but not as an idol. The blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1–14 are all forms of power, and God blesses us with them in this life and the next. It would be wrong to not desire these good blessings from God, and it is equally wrong to seek them apart from God’s blessing. Power usually only comes to those who seek it, and there is no reason to leave most of the world in the hands of the devil when Jesus is reigning from heaven. Christians should gladly receive “earthly” forms of power from God and use them for His kingdom, and they should also rejoice when they are persecuted by the powers of the world. Though we do not need bread, land, children, money, or political power, it is good when God puts these things in the hands of the righteous. They will all be ours some day, so we can gladly receive them or patiently wait for them. God shows his power both by giving these blessings and by working in their absence. Hannah celebrates that God powerfully takes the powerless and makes them powerful in every way. Jesus does this as he casts out demons, heals the lame, and gives his Apostles the keys to his kingdom. God’s power doesn’t stay in Heaven, and avoiding power does not makes us spiritual. God made man and told him to take dominion of the earth, and the Son of Man has been fulfilling this mission for 2000 years.

How the Count of Monte Cristo Learns to Forgive

The Quest for Cosmic Justice

After unjustly being sent to prison for fourteen years, Edmond Dantes desires to see God’s providence in the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. When he suddenly acquires a fortune, he has the ability to bring this about himself. He finds his friend poor and his enemies rich, and begins a decade-long project of correcting cosmic injustice. Here is what he says after anonymously saving his most loyal friend from destitution and suicide:

And now, farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good — now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!

He is single-minded in this quest, though he knows that divine justice will be accomplished even if he fails. When it appears for an evening that he will have to lay down his life before his project of vengeance is complete, he writes a note on his will about the nature of his death, and looks up to Heaven and says:

I do this, O my God! as much for thy honour as for mine. I have for ten years considered myself the agent of thy vengeance; and other wretches, like Morcerf, a Danglars, a Villefort, even Morcerf himself must not imagine that chance has freed them from their enemy. Let them know, on the contrary, that their punishment which had been decreed by Providence is only delayed by my present resolve, that although they may escape it in this world, it awaits them in another, and that they are only exchanging time for eternity.

This is not forgiveness, but it is an admission that human vengeance is not necessary, because the Lord will not leave any sin unpunished forever.

The Need for Forgiveness

Part of the count’s revenge against Villefort involved stirring up conflict in his family and putting the idea of using poison into Mrs. Villefort’s mind. This gets out of hand, and ends with Mrs. Villefort poisoning her young son and herself. When the count reveals his identity to Villefort, Villefort surprises him by taking him upstairs to see what he has done.

“Edmond Dantes!” he said, pointing to the bodies of his wife and child. “See! are you well avenged?”

Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he felt he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say “God is for and with me.”

The count fails to save the child’s life and then finds Villefort mad. He runs out of the house, “for the first time doubting whether he had the right to do what he had done.” This is the moment when he has a change of heart, crying “Oh! enough of this, — enough of this, let me save the last.” And so he saves his last enemy, Danglars, instead of letting him die of hunger:

“Do you repent?” asked a deep, solemn voice, which caused Danglars’ hair to stand on end. His feeble eyes tried to distinguish objects, and behind the bandit he saw a man enveloped in a cloak, half hidden by the shadow of a stone column.

“Of what must I repent?” stammered Danglars.

“Of the evil you have done,” said the voice.

“Oh yes! oh yes! I do indeed repent.” And he struck his breast with his emaciated fist.

“Then I forgive you,” said the man, dropping his cloak, and advancing to the light.

“The Count of Monte Cristo!” said Danglars, more pale from terror than he had been just before from hunger and misery.

“You are mistaken, — I am not the Count of Monte Cristo!”

“Then who are you?”

“Someone whom you sold and dishonoured, — whose betrothed you prostituted, — upon whom you trampled that you might raise yourself to fortune, — whose father you condemned to die of hunger, — whom you also condemned to starvation, and who yet forgives you, because he hopes to be forgiven. I am Edmond Dantes!”

Danglars uttered a cry and fell prostrate.

“Rise,” said the count, “your life is safe; the same good fortune has not happened to your accomplices; one is mad, the other dead. Keep the 50,000 francs you have left, I give them to you. The 5,000,000 you stole from the hospitals has been restored to them by an unknown hand. And now, eat and drink; I will entertain you to-night. Vampa, when this man is satisfied, let him go.”

The Count of Monte Cristo forgives because he also needs forgiveness from God. He sees the horror of his own sin, and loses his taste for vengeance. He takes these words of Jesus to heart:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:15