Tag Archives: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Lady of Little Faith

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 WEB)

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, I’d decided to read some of the major works I’d avoided over the years in lieu of reading theology and Christian ministry related books, not to mention the computer, radio, audio, and numerous other texts relating to my ministry.

He lugged the massive, even in paperback, copy of The Brothers Karamazov, to our home. I’d 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. I found it fascinating how Dostoevsky rambled in his prose style. Way too many words for my succinct engineering mind. But, I still enjoyed his presentation of the people, culture, and theological mindset created in his literary version of Russia. So, I just stopped and made a note of a passage that caught my fancy.

I was in part I, book 2, when I met the monastery elder Zosima. Interestingly described, with great detail to the historical installation of elders, with that wizened presence which instills confidence in those around him. Several encounters were described which served to demonstrate his amazing, clear evaluation of those seeking his blessing and advice. Then I came to a lady of little faith. Without reiterating the depth of the text, he made 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.

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Conversations About Theology

He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 WEB)

At one time, I waded through the massive work, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Considering the details, he placed on each verbal interchange, physical action and precise emotional situation the story doesn’t move at a strikingly swift pace. But, I enjoyed it. One weekend I read a long discourse on theology and this passing comment by Ivan captured my attention.

The stupider, the clearer. Stupidity is brief and guileless, while reason hedges and hides. Reason is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.

After years of theological study, sermons, lectures, and tomes of exposition and interpretation, mired down with the sludge of obese vocabulary and obtuse explanations, I found this quotation a refreshing and uplifting approach to the colloquy often infecting our homilies and interlocution about God and His divine intervention in the entanglements of mankind.

2010_07_03-vm-upgrade-005I don’t usually talk or write quite so verbosely as a matter of course. I do enjoy careful composition of a well-turned phrase using the appropriate application of language and vocabulary. However, in normal life, it doesn’t work. Not only am I at a loss for that perfect idiom, to demonstrate concisely the depth of the subject matter, but I don’t think that fast on my feet. (My wife says my sermons, which are usually written in their entirety before delivered, often contain such succinct statements to cause confusion while preaching in a multi-language environment. So, she reads them, before I preach, and changes things to compensate for the lack of direct one-to-one translation of various creedal sentences and theological confabulations.)

What’s my point? Consider my earlier statements. Do they leave room for misinterpretation of my disposition on the matter of simplicity versus complexity in theological discussions? Probably. Even though I carefully composed those sentences their interpretation is subject to the readers understanding or misunderstanding of each word. Using complex vocabulary to carefully divulge the intricacies of a subject only works when the person who is reading also lives and works with that same vocabulary.

On the other hand, there is a collection of basic English (or any other language) words which predominate day to day speech and interaction. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t use the highfalutin’ words of His day. Instead he spoke, and the Apostles wrote, in the common languages of the day, using common terms clearly understandable by the people. A parable’s meaning might not be crystal clear to the listener but the language embodied within the parable was simple and common.

So why do I, and others I know, chose to occasionally punctuate our writing, or speech, with some of these 10 dollar words and phrases? Am I trying to be vague, to hedge and hide behind the ambiguity of less than common words? Not usually. In fact, I’m often trying to clarify something by a precise selection of terms. It doesn’t always work. On the other hand, sometimes I am trying to squirm out of a ticklish situation, a discourse which makes me cringe in uncertainty, by cloaking my expostulation in language open for a variety of interpretations.

Regardless, when it comes to sharing the message of salvation, a simple and clear message, I try to discard all the trappings of the etymology of words and use simple, concise, and succinct language. Paul was clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” It can’t be much simpler than that.

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