When I was a child my grandfather used to tell me classic stories from literature, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lorna Doon and the Count of Monte Christo and I was pretty captivated by these amazing adventure stories.
The Count of Monte Christo is Alexander Dumas’ tale of a young man, Edmund Dante, who is (unjustly) thrown into jail by three rivals. In the jail he learns of their treachery, escapes and finds vast treasure and then with his new found wealth (and the passage of time that has aged him) he gains a new identity –the Count of Monte Christo- and sets out to destroy each of his rival’s lives.
Revenge can make a great novel and adventure, but in reality revenge does nothing to take away our pain instead it simply feeds all that is negative within us, bitterness eats away at our very soul.
Buddha is reputed to have said: “”Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” Whilst the author Mark Twain said: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured”.
Esau had good reason to be resentful, bitter and angry with his brother Jacob, he had been wronged and he was unable to re-write the past or take back his brothers blessing, and yet he chose the costlier and sacrificial path of forgiveness and reconciliation with his brother Jacob.
Joseph too had the perfect opportunity to revenge on his brothers –indeed if we read the story for the first time it sounds as though he is laying a trap, but in the end he chooses to move on from the past and create a new future of reconciliation.
Jesus, the only truly holy and righteous human being to walk the earth forgave those who were brutally murdering him and said: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.
Forgiveness is not denying the pain of the past or saying it did not matter, we read about how Joseph wept with such intensity that his servants heard his cries and were concerned for him.
Yet despite the pain choosing to act righteously and graciously, seeking the Christ like path of forgiveness, non-retaliation or vengeance.
I once was asked about forgiveness (the person they were angry with had died many, many, years ago) and I felt God simply say “because God loves you and wants you to be free”, which echoes another quote “forgiveness sets a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you” Lewis B. Smedes.
Forgiveness is a choice, often a very tough choice, and often is a choice we keep have to keep walking in. I find I forgive and then unforgiveness creeps back in a steals the ground back and have make the choice afresh to forgive again.
Forgiveness is a constant choice to keep choosing the path of forgiveness –something we need God’s help and grace to do every step of the journey, but often requires us to make the first move.
One of the stories I find incredibly challenging is from Corrie Ten Boom, who was sent to one of the Nazi Concentration Camps –where her sister Betsy died- for hiding Jews. After the war she went on tour talking about forgiveness, one day at a Church she met a man who was a guard at the Camp, the man had repented of his past but still Corrie was reminded of the horrors she had face. She prayed and held out her hand to the man –she describes her arm feeling like lead so hard and heavy to hold out to this man, and yet she was courageous and faithful and was able to grasp his hand in forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela, who was a political prisoner for many years on Robin Island, chose when he left the prison cell to leave behind him bitterness and hatred and became a force of unifying a very fractured and divided South Africa, he could when he became President courted popularity by persecuting those who persecuted him and his people, but instead he chose to forgive and showed the greater power of grace and love.
So, what of us? The challenge today is embrace forgiveness, to free ourselves from the captivity of bitterness, anger, hatred and unforgiveness.
Let us nail our desires for revenge and vengeance to the cross of Christ as we choose the tougher and narrower path of grace, perhaps even needing to walk this stretch of road more frequently than we might like.
Let us choose the ending to our story or stories, may they resemble the heroes of our faith and not the tale of vengeance from people such as the count of Monte Christo.