Sunday, February 14, 2010
Dostoyevsky and His Testament
He was found writing and circulating pamphlets against the czarist regime. Standing in front of a firing squad with other unfortunates, blindfolded. Waiting for that dreadful word, "Fire".
But instead rough hands pulled him away from the place of death, yanked off the blindfold. Reprieve! And a new order to make profit from these troublemakers in the work camps of Siberia. Ten years hard, cold labour.
Shocked and puzzled, Fyodor Dostoyevsky waited for his transport, wondering whether to thank God or Lady Luck. On the day of departure in the bustle of line-ups at the train, a woman placed a pocket New Testament in his hand, squeezed it, and gazed upon him briefly with eyes of hope. She was accompanied by another and together they whispered that he might examine it in his spare time. Then they were gone.
That Testament became his hiding place, his focus of good, of hope. With stolen hours and stolen candle light he studied the record of the Man of Mercy and meditated upon the heart and purposes of Christ. He read it to others. They engaged in dialogue which effectively transported them from the harshness and purposelessness of the camp. In his words: "One sees the truth more clearly when one is unhappy. And yet God gives me moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple: here it is. I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Saviour. I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one."
Following his detention, which included five years military service, life was difficult. Family debts threatened to rob him of most of the profits of his writing. A gambling addiction. But a good wife and a constant communion with Christ were his consistent salvation. He resolved in many of his works of fiction to make use of Bible stories and to consider the merits of Christ and Christ-likeness. Go to his classics and see this illustrated: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov. His topics were often suffering and the inequities of life.
To me it is a joy to consider that during the seventy-plus years of hard Communist experiment, including the suppression of Christian worship, these books were treasured in the households and libraries of the federation. It was, if you will, a long growing season of the wheat and the tares together and indistinguishable until the harvest began in 1989.
Imagine the scene in Crime and Punishment where the murderer has come to the harlot's poor and ill-lit apartment. Her bruised soul has taken comfort from the account of Christ and other unfortunates like herself. She draws out her Bible and reads to Raskolnikoff the story of the raising of Lazarus. He asks, 'Could there be such a thing? The raising of a dead man to new life and opportunity? I am dead.'
Leo Tolstoy, that famed author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection, himself a Christian, had the deepest admiration for Dostoyevsky and his works. It was as if the latter had found the pearl of great price in grace, undeserved favour with God. The former was stuck in the loop of legalism and pressing duty. He had never seen himself as a criminal saved for reasons known only to God.
From the deathbed of Dostoyevsky in 1881, a daughter, Aimee, relates some of the last words: "Have absolute faith in God and never despair of his pardon. I love you dearly, but my love is nothing compared with the love of God. Even if you should be so unhappy as to commit some dreadful crime, never despair of God. You are His children; humble yourselves before Him, as before your father; implore His pardon, and He will rejoice over your repentance, as the father rejoiced over that of the prodigal son."