September 11, 2010
Today’s new atheism has been popularized by Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Contemporary atheism reminds me of Alexandre Dumas’ book ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. You may remember Jim Caviezel/ Edmond Dantes’ cry while in Chateau d’If prison: “I don’t believe in God”. Edmond had suffered so deeply and so unfairly for so long that he had given up on the concept of a loving and just God. His ‘cellmate’ Abbe Faria poignantly replied to Edmond: “God believes in you.”
Alexandre Dumas lived through many French revolutions during which belief in God became distinctly out-of-fashion or even dangerous to one’s health. Dumas experienced much disappointment in his life, and was frequently either breaking the heart of a female acquaintance or having his own heart broken. Yet in the midst of many setbacks, Dumas had a fascination with the God question that comes across in his over 250 novels, travel pieces, memoirs, and theatre productions. Best known as author of ‘The Three Musketeers’, ‘The Man with the Iron Mask’, and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Dumas had a remarkable ability to touch deep into people’s souls. As his friend Victor Hugo said after Dumas’ death, Alexandre “fertilizes the soul, the mind, the intelligence; he creates a thirst for reading; he penetrates the human genius and sows seeds in it.”
In the Dumas biography ‘Genius of Life’, we are told about young Dumas’ tragic loss of his father: “Why should I not see (my father) any more?”
“Because God has taken him back”
“…I’m going to heaven”, said young Dumas, “I’m going to kill God who killed my papa.”
Dumas, being an avid reader, learned much sacred history from the Bible that later shaped many of his plays. Dumas encouraged the studying of ‘the bible as a religious, historic and poetic book’. At one point, young Dumas was given funding in a will to go to seminary and become a priest. This overwhelmed him, and he said “I am running away, because I do not want to be a priest.” Receiving his first communion had a profound impact on Dumas: “When the host touched his lips, he became dizzy, burst into sobs, and fainted. It took him three days to recover from this…Dumas would never again approach the communion table, except at the hour of his death.”
Our reactions to suffering and injustice can make or break us, turn us bitter or better. So often we are insensitive to the deeper issues of life until we have personally ‘hit the wall’. Edmond Dantes the Monte Cristo hero recalled that ‘the prayers taught him by his mother discovered in them a hidden meaning hitherto unknown to him. To the happy and prosperous man, prayer is but a meaningless jumble of words until grief comes to explain to the poor wretch the sublime language that is our means of communication with God.”
Edmond Dantes miraculously escaped from prison and found hidden treasure on the Island of Monte Cristo. Using resurrection language, Dumas commented, “When (Edmond) was at the height of his despair, God revealed himself to him through another human being. One day he left his tomb transfigured miraculously.”
But Edmond was consumed by a need for revenge that threatened to destroy his own new freedom. “I must have revenge, Mercedes! For fourteen long years have I suffered, for fourteen years wept and cursed, and now I must avenge myself.” Dantes admitted to Mercedes: “From being a kind and confiding nature, I made myself in to a treacherous and vindictive man…If you ever loved me, don’t rob me of my hate. It is all I have.” She wisely responded, saying, “Let it go Edmond. Let it go.
Edmond’s reappearance after so many years in prison called forth this memorable statement from Mercedes: “Edmond, I know there is a God above, for you still live and I have seen you. I put my trust in him to help me…Unhappy wretch that I am, I doubted God’s goodness…Cowardice was at the root of all my actions.” Edmond responded to her deep repentance by saying: “you have disarmed me by your sorrow…God had need of me and my life was spared.”
At the end of the book, Edmond faces the Christ-like choice of mercy or revenge. He painfully chose mercy which set him free from the root of bitterness that was eating him alive. Mercedes commented: “I repeat once more, Edmond, it is noble, beautiful to forgive as you have done.”
Dumas said in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ that ‘the wretched and miserable should turn to their Saviour first, yet they do not hope in Him until all other hope is exhausted.’
My prayer for those reading this article is that we not totally exhaust ourselves before we finally admit our spiritual need.