When my son Evan came to visit us in Austria, I asked him to bring me some books. Since he worked in a bookstore it was a great chance to get some reduced prices. I like sales! Anyway, recently I’ve decided to read some of the major works I’ve avoid over the years in lieu of reading theology and Christian ministry related books, not to mention the computer, radio, audio, and numerous other engineering texts relating to our ministry.
He lugged the massive paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov to our home. I’ve read excerpts from Fyodor Dostoevsky and references to his characters in other texts and decided it was time to take the plunge and see if I could work my way through the 776 pages of the tome. So far so good. I found it fascinating how Dostoevsky rambles in his prose style. Way too many words for my succinct engineering mind. But, I’m still enjoying his presentation of the people, culture, and theological mindset created in his literary version of Russia. So, I may just stop, like today, make note of a passage that catches my fancy and share it with you, including my comments of course.
I’m in part I, book 2, I meet the monastery elder Zosima. Interestingly he is described, with great detail to the historical installation of elders, with that wizened presence which instills confidence in those around him. Several encounters are described which serve to demonstrate his amazing, clear evaluation of those seeking his blessing and advice. Then we come to a lady of little faith. Without reiterating the depth of the text he makes the following statement, to the lady, concerning her desire to love those around her.
“ . . . active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a while science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment – I predict this to you – you will suddenly reach your goal and clearly behold over you the wonder-working power of the Lord, who all the while has been mysteriously guiding you.”
I wish I could take credit for such a clear statement, but alas, I can’t. While translated from the original Russian this seems a concise description of many Christians in today’s church. I was caught off guard when I realized the times I too have sought to be loving for the joy of the spiritual applause my fellow believers provided.
We, even Christians, even missionaries, like an audience that appreciates our efforts. The lady in the story confessed to seeking advice, on how to express love to others, for the joy of being praised by the elder. I like to think I’m selfless and giving fully of myself in serving others. This may be true at times. But, at other times I sulk and am tempted to stop when my ego isn’t bolstered with words of encouragement and praise.
Maybe you can identify with me, maybe not. I must confess, I was chastised when I read the sentence, “ . . .active love is labor and perseverance, . . . ” countered against the condemnation, “ Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching. ” Ouch, that hurts!
So, I guess I need to look a little more closely, even as a missionary, at the reason I do this or that. Am I being “nice” because I should, because it is Christ-like? Or, am I looking for worldly approval? Tough questions.
So. a new week begins, my mind has been challenged. We’ll see how things go. Maybe somewhere in the days ahead I’ll draw closer to my goal of loving everyone around me, as Christ loved me, even in the midst of my mistakes and, at times, wrong attitude. We have a wonder-working Lord and it is a wonder what he does in me day to day.