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