Nearing the end of reading Feodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I had been contemplating the darkness of the human heart for my next RIB post when the news out of Newtown blackened these already sunless days. The great 19th-century Russian novelist has more to say to us about current events, than any pundit.
In a quick search I was gratified to find that both Ross Douthat of the New York Times and Sean Kirst of the Syracuse Post-Standard invoked Dostoevsky in their reflections on the suffering of innocents in Newtown. Both columnists refer to Dostoevsky’s character Ivan Karamazov– one of the Karamazov brothers– who recounts, in wrenching detail, brutalities inflicted on children. Douthat is worth quoting at length:
“Ivan invokes these innocents in a speech that remains one of the most powerful rebukes to the idea of a loving, omniscient God — a speech that accepts the possibility that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.”
Douthat concludes his article with wisdom and theological refinement: no intellectual argument for the All-Powerful, All-Loving Deity can be proffered successfully in the face of such suffering; rather, there is only the power of bearing witness, and the slow, sad healing that comes in compassionate solidarity and shared grief. The Biblical story of Christmas, Douthat continues, is not the sentimentality we have repeated to ourselves so much that we think (falsely) that it’s true: to the contrary, Herod killed babies. It is into that kind of brutal world that the God-we-know-in-Jesus comes as a powerless baby, to redeem that world by sharing in its (our) suffering.
I will have more on Dostoevsky and Newtown soon.
Here is the link to Douthat’s article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/loss-of-the-innocents.html?ref=fyodordostoyevsky&_r=0