The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite movies. The story centers around a young French merchant sailor, Edmond Dantes, who is about to marry the love his life, the beautiful Mercedes. The night before their wedding, he is falsely accused of attempting to pass a treasonous note to Napoleon Bonaparte. Dantes is arrested and whisked away to the French dungeon, Chateau d’If, where he languishes fourteen years as his belief in God slowly withers, leaving him with bitterness and consumed with thoughts of exacting revenge on all who took part in his demise. During his imprisonment, he meets a fellow prisoner, “Priest”, a frail, but wise old man who teaches Dantes to read, write and defend himself with a sword. After years of the two prisoners secretly tunneling their way to freedom, the dirt walls cave in on Priest. In his dying moments, Priest gives Dantes a treasure map where he will find immeasurable wealth, warning him to use the treasure for good when he finds it. I won’t give all the details (and ruin the movie for those of you who’ve not had the pleasure of seeing it), but suffice it to say the author paints a rather poignant picture of the all-consuming, cancerous effects of bitterness in one’s life.
Perhaps you are struggling with bitterness. Maybe life hasn’t gone as you’d hoped. Maybe you are still working through the agony of a painful childhood. Maybe your spouse has failed you, or a friend has betrayed you. Life is filled with pain and most of us will be presented with plenty of opportunity to hold a grudge or nurse a “root of bitterness”.
Whether your bitter feelings are justified or not isn't the point. The real question is, “Does God allow for bitterness?” Scripture tells us in Matthew 6:15 that God will forgive our sins in the way we forgive others. God wants us to understand that though our sin is utterly reprehensible to Him, He has extended us full forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, His perfect, sinless Son.
Jesus illustrates this in the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. Though the master forgives his servant an insurmountable debt, the newly-forgiven servant goes out and demands full payment from a fellow servant of an insignificant debt. When we are unforgiving toward someone who’s wronged us, we are just as guilty as the unforgiving servant.
If you truly want to be free of bitterness, you must forgive—even if your forgiveness is never sought.
In the Count of Monte Cristo, Priest offered this wisdom to Dantes: “Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence.” (Oops, I just gave away part of the ending!) Priest’s point is clear. We have a choice to make when we are wronged. We can choose the burden of bitterness or the freedom forgiveness provides. It was not until Dantes let go of his anger and bitterness—though his feelings were justified by the world’s standards—that he found the freedom he so desperately needed.
And so it is with us. It is only as we let go of bitterness and forgive that we are truly free. No one can imprison us unless we allow them to.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:6
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