Murals (2008) by PHANTAST - Graffiti - Cultural Music & Art Association inc. - 98 Milne St. Benleigh

beatitudes-150x150  "The works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith of modern times" (Anatoli Kuznetsov).

Ultimately I found a key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount, not in the writing of great theologians but in a more unlikely place: the writings of two 19-th century Russian novelists, from whom I gained my own view - a mosaic of law and grace - one-half Tolstoy and one-half Dostoevsky.

From Tolstoy I learned a deep respect for God's inflexible, absolute Ideal. The etical ideals Tolstoy encounted in the Gospels atracted him like a flame, though his failure to live up to those ideals ultimately consumed him. Like the Anabaptists, Tolstoy strove to follow the Sermon on the Mount literally, and his intensity soon caused his family to feel like victims of his quest for holiness. After reading Jesus' command to the rich man to give away everything, Tolstoy decided to free serfs, give away his copyrights, and dispose of his vast estate. He wore peasant cloths, made his own shoes, and began working in the fields. His wife, Sonya, seeing the family's financial security about to vaporiae, protested until he made some concessions. He gave up hunting, smoking, drinking, and meat. He drafted "Rules for developing the emotional will. Rules for developing lofty feelings and eliminating base ones". Yet he could never achive the self-discipline necessary to keep the rules.
His phylosophy of nonviolence, lifted directly from the Sermon on the Mount, had an impact that long outlived him, in ideological descendants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Tolstoy's ardent strides toward perfection never resulted in any semblance of peace or serenity; he was a deeply unhappy man. He fulminated against the corrupt Russian Orthodox Church of his day and earned their excommunication.I have learned that, contrary to those who say the gospel solves our problems, in many ways - justice, money issues, race issues - the gospels actually adds to our burdens.
To his critics Tolstoy replied: 'Don't judge God's holy ideals by my inability to meet them. Don't judge Christ by those of us who imperfectly bear his name'.
The x-ray vision into the human heart that made him a great novelist also made him a tortured Christian. Like a spawning salmon, he faught upstream all his life, in the end collapsing from moral exhaustion. He made Good as believable and appealing as Evil... With crystalline clarity Tolstoy could see his own inadequacy  in the light of God's Ideal. But he could not take the further step of trusting God's grace to overcome that inadequacy.

Dostoevsky got many things wrong, but he got one thing right: His novels communicate grace and forgiveness with a Tolstoyan force.  Early in his life, Dostoevske underwent a virtual resurrection - arrested for belonging to a group judged treasonous by Tsar, was sentenced to death under a mock execution. He never recovered from this experience. He had peered into the jaws of death, and from that moment life became for him precious beyond all calculation. In prison had a liberal view of the inhernt goodness in humanity  shattered in collision with the granitic evil he found in his cellmates. Yet over time he also glimpsed the image of God in even the lowest prisoners. He came to believe that only through being loved is a human being capable of love.
I encounted grace in the novels of Dostoevsky.
"Crime and Punishment" portrays a dispicable human being who commits a despicable crime. Yet grace enters Raskolnikov's life as well through converted prostitute Sonia.
"The Brothers Karamazov" draws a contrast between Ivan the briliant agnostic and his devout brother Alyosha. Alyosha has no solutions for he intellectual problems Ivan raises, but he has a solution for humanity : love. "I do not know the answer to the problem of evil, but I do know love".

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky helped me come to terms with a central paradox of the Chritian life.
From Tolstoy I learned the need to look inside, to the kingdom of God that is within me. I saw how miserably I had failed the high ideals of the gospel
But from Dostoevsky I learned the full extent of grace. Not only the kingdom of God is within me; Christ himself dwells there. "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more" ( Romans).
Jesus never lowered God's Ideal: "Be perfect !"
Yet the same Jesus tenderly offered absolute grace - he forgave an adulteress, a thief on the cross, a disciple who had denied ever knowing him  (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew).

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