The liberal theologian Paul Tillich once depicted sin in terms of "gaps and splits. Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov is one of the very few near normal, healthy characters in his canon of works. This phenomenon of splitness reveals itself repeatedly throughout his stories and novels. Splitness takes the form of spite and irrationality, a desire-to-please, yet a desire-not-to-please in the so-called Underground Man or narrator in Notes from the Underground.
One of the most intriguing cases of all for Bible students is the story of "The Double. Like the major existentialists, Dostoevsky has done Christian theology a service by painting the portraits of people in a form that is consonant with that of Christian orthodoxy. Berdyaev asserted that Dostoevsky "uncovered a volcanic crater in every being.
In The Idiot , on his birthday, Prince Myshkin challenges the atheists present to tell him "with what they will save the world? There is to be no harmony without redemption, no salvation without God, and no paradise on earth. Initially, it seems necessary to say something about the genre of literature under our scrutiny here. A novel is not designed as a super-long evangelistic tract. At the end of these three major novels all three characters are primed for conversion, but the best we are given falls under the category of hopeful hints.
Boyce Gibson remarks, "In the Epilogue of Crime and Punishment , Raskolnikov avoids the Christian formula [of conversion]…" 23 Similarly, Richard Peace commented concerning Stepan Verkhovensky in Demons that his "final words…seem more in keeping with some vague theism of the 40s than with true Christianity.
Alyosha having gone through some serious doubts threw himself onto the earth to kiss it. Alyosha articulates his experience by asserting, "Someone visited my soul at that moment. A Christian conversion? At best, an analyst must preserve an agnostic stance on the subject. Who is the "Someone" Alyosha encounters?
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Father Zosima is the lovable elder over the monastery in The Brothers Karamazov to which Alyosha is temporarily attached. It seems light years away from Acts Ivan the intellectual cannonades Alyosha with atheistic arguments.
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Dostoevsky complained that the government censor suppressed the place where from all this I deduced the need for faith and Christ. That is the topic of salvation through suffering. In Martin Luther King, Jr. However, exactly what Dostoevsky meant by using similar language remains ambiguous.
Berdyaev declared, "Dostoevsky believed firmly in the redemptive and regenerative power of suffering: life is the expiation of sin by suffering. He continues: "That is why I seek boundless suffering. On one occasion Dostoevsky wrote to his wife: "God gave you to me so that…I might expiate my own great sins…" 33 The repetitiveness of this salvation-through-suffering theme is far too relentless in Dostoevsky to be downplayed. The book of Hebrews appears to grant some pedagogically perfecting power to suffering when rightly responded to see Heb ; ; God uses suffering as a teaching tool to conform us to Christ.
Yet Dostoevsky through the mouth of his characters seemed to invest suffering with some spiritually regenerative power—and this we must repudiate. While Dostoevsky offered spiritual solutions for regeneration through his characters to other needy characters in his novels, I do not find forthcoming any clear-cut biblical prescription for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
In relation to Roman Catholicism, Dostoevsky set forth numerous virulent tirades in his books. However, it is never apparent that he is taking Romanism to task on the grounds of their unbiblical soteriology.
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There is a considerable amount of apocalyptic talk occurring in both The Idiot and Demons. One of the less serious characters in The Idiot, Lebedyev, is a "self-styled interpreter of the Apocalypse" [that is, the book of Revelation]. Obviously the interpreter in this case adopts a historicist position by quoting events in Revelation 6 with the contemporary world of the s.
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In The Brothers Karamazov Ivan interprets Rev as the heresy of antisupernaturalism manifest in the German Enlightenment—once more an example of a historicist hermeneutic. Demons informs us, "in the Apocalypse the angel swears that time will be no more" Part II, chap 5. It was proclaimed by the great and might angel in the Apocalypse" Ibid. Of course, most modern Bible versions render "time…no more" in the way the New King James Version does: "there should be delay no longer. Lebedyev responded that he "unfolded the allegory and fitted dates to it.
Most literary analysts concur in seeing Stavrogin in Demons as an antichrist figure. Stavrogin is not blatantly villainous, but he is the cold-and-bold, unpredictable polar personality around whom many of the other characters in the novel revolve. The name Stavrogin is related to the Byzantine word stavros and Greek stauros , meaning "cross.
In Russian verkhovenstvo means "supremacy. With these notions should be compared Rev In the narrative Verkhovensky is an incendiary, so he—in effect—brings fire to the earth, paralleling Rev Also in Demons the intellectual Kirillov talks to Stavrogin about "the man-god. Again, the Bible student cannot help but reflect upon the parody of Christ found in antichrist as in 2 Thess In Crime and Punishment Marmeladov, the alcoholic father, refers to drunkards "made in the image of the beast and his mark" Part I, chap 2.
Compare Rev Consequently, the thought and terminology of Revelation 13 played a significant role in the thinking of Dostoevsky. A parallel with Revelation 17 and 18 comes through when the Europe of the s is likened to Babylon: "their Babylon is indeed going to collapse; great will be its fall…" Demons , Part II, chap 5. Joseph Frank wrote that Dostoevsky "sought to accept the essential dogmas of the divinity of Christ, personal immortality, the Second Coming and the Resurrection. The Brothers Karamazov ends on a high note.
Frank notes that in the corpus of novels there is a "lurking imminence of the Day of Judgment and the Final Reckoning. Hell would seem to be a reality in Dostoevsky. Dmitri Karamazov asks whether he will go "to Heaven or to Hell…? Berdyaev reported that "evil for [Dostoevsky] was evil, to be burned in the fires of hell. Nevertheless, Father Zosima "did not literally believe in hellfire. The conclusion of philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev is: "I personally know no more profoundly Christian writer than Dostoevsky…" and asserts that Dostoevsky "loved Christ consumingly…" 49 Given such complimentary conclusions, some readers might consider it almost sacrilegious to raise the question that entitles this section of the article.
However, since Christians are commanded to be claim-testers in 1 Thess: and 1 John , the question must be deemed a legitimate issue to raise—especially in light of the previously discussed defective soteriology. Dostoevsky was raised within the womb of the Russian Orthodox Church. His grandfather was an archpriest, his uncle was a village priest, three aunts married village priests, and his father had even attended seminary for a while. Job was one of the Bible stories that most fascinated him as a youngster. Furthermore, a deacon visited the Dostoevsky home and taught Scripture lessons "from one and a half to two hours" each week.
One of the three, Natalya Fonvizina "knew [the Bible] almost by heart; she read the works of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church and the writers of the Catholic and Protestant churches…" 54 Dostoevsky treasured and preserved this gift of The Gospels to his dying day, as we have noted. This is a complicated question, because Dostoevsky was a complex person with complicated writings. The question is compounded by his involvement in one of those sacerdotal types of Eastern churches.
Little Fyodor said his prayers daily before the family icon of the Virgin Mary: "Mother of God, keep me and preserve me under Thy wing! Of course, we might also have a tough time determining from the Gospels exactly when Peter or any of the apostles were converted.
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It is possible that Dostoevsky began to believe in Christ during his early childhood experience. Like many children growing up in a Christian family, it may be hard to trace any neat before-and-after date. His life-sparing traumatic experience before the firing squad in left him feeling that he had been given new life—a sort of resurrection, but other documented factors would seem to militate against this event being assessed as a Christian conversion. His reported words to his brother Mikhail on that occasion were. I swear that I…will keep my soul and heart pure.
I will be reborn for the better. He was undoubtedly rejuvenated, but unlikely regenerated at this juncture in his life. He used similar words when his ten-pound leg chains were removed upon his release from the Siberian prison "Freedom, new life, resurrection from the dead…! If Dostoevsky was already a Christian before he left Siberia in , he "never seemed to grow as a Christian," reported an anonymous Christianity Today reporter.
He became a compulsive gambler and lost so much money [that] he was all but bankrupt. Another experience while he was in the Siberian prison is often cited by biographers. During one Easter week in prison Dostoevsky recounted a mystical experience. Before that, he had despised the other convicts. After it his attitude was completely altered. He related: "…suddenly felt I could look on these unfortunates with quite different eyes, and suddenly as if by miracle, all hatred and rancor had vanished from my heart.
There is such a stress upon a salvation by suffering that this theme raises real questions about an authentic Christianity in the famous author himself. Dostoevsky unquestionably believed he had a religious mission in his writing, but any message of clear-cut conversion—and how to become a Christian—fails to come through in the great novels. At best, they serve a pre-evangelistic purpose, which is indeed a valuable function. At the climax of his novels Christianity comes through more as a flickering light at the end of a dark tunnel. Even the Dostoevsky-praising philosopher Berdyaev observed that the famed Russian "did not tell us how to acquire [freedom of spirit], how we may attain spiritual and moral autonomy…" In an letter Dostoevsky advised N.
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Thankfully, there is some evidence to be adduced on the positive side of the fence. To him Dostoevsky responded that he was. Lvov documented that Dostoevsky exclaimed to Speshnev: "We shall be with Christ. William Lyon Phelps, a Christian professor at Yale University, acknowledged that Dostoevsky "found in the Christian religion the only solution of the riddle of existence…" His presentation of God, Christ, and sin are generally aligned with the theological thought of Christian orthodoxy.
Sadly, however, his crystallizations that relate to the subject of salvation in his novels often appear defective.