The Brothers Karamozov

January 10, 2006

I was cleaning out my office yesterday and packing up books, when I came across a paperback copy of The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The book belongs to my brother (except that possession is 9/10ths of the law), and I had never read it. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever read a fiction book of this magnitude (936 pages in this edition). I have begun the task of digesting this literary classic.

Dostoevsky (1821-1881) began life as liberal socialist arrested for his actions against the sitting Tsar. After his imprisonment and mock execution (read the wikipedia biography for more information), he converted to conservative Christianity (the terms liberal and conservative must be taken into context the period and location of Dostoevsky‘s life). In his later life he was prone to compulsive gambling; however, it is during this time that his masterpieces were written. The Brothers Karamzov was the last of his novels. He died 4 months after its publishing.

From my brief reading thusfar, I have found the novel to be saturated with spiritual wisdom. I do not agree with everything the different protaganists are attempting to teach, but I will share some quotes with you of interest:

In a realist, it is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that generates miracles. Once a realist becomes a believer, however, his very realism will make him accept the existence of miracles (pg 29).

It is written: “If thou wouldst be perfect, go and give up all that thou hast and come and follow me.” So Alyosha [the hero] said to himself: “I cannot very well just give up a couple of rubles, instead of all that I have, or, instead of obeying the Lord’s ‘Follow me,’ just attend church.” [emphasis mine] (pg. 30)

What a rebuke to us all. How common place is it among modern Christianity to think that God’s call to us is to simply give up a couple hours a week to attend a religious gathering? How few have actually sacrificed all that they have to follow the Rabbi?

Zosima, the elder and a religious leader, shares this wisdom:

God will forgive everything. There is not–there cannot be–a sin on earth that God will not forgive the truly repentant. Why, a man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. How could there be a sin that would surpass the love of God? (pg. 59)
Have faith that God loves you more than you can ever imagine. He loves you, sinful as you are and, indeed, because of your sin. It was said long ago that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ten righteous men. Go now, and fear nothing. Do not be offended if peple treat you badly. Do not hold it against them (pg. 59).

For if you repent, you love, and if you love, you are with God. Love redeems and saves everything. If I, a sinner like yourself, am moved and feel compassion for you, how infinitely much more will God! Love is such an infinite treasure it can buy the whole world and can redeem not only your sins, but the sins of all people (pgs. 59-60).

In response to the question of struggling with the existence of God, Zosima responds:

By acts of love. Try to love your neighbors, love them actively and unceasingly. And as you learn to love them more and more, you will be more and more convinced of the existence of God and of the immortality of your soul. And if you achieve complete self-abnegation in your love for your fellow man, you will certainly gain faith, and there will be no room in your soul for any doubt whatsoever. This has been tested. This is the true way (pgs. 64-65).

This reminds me of what Dr. Robert Webber an “incarnational apologetic” in his book The Younger Evangelicals (I would pull out the book and find the comment, except that it was one of the many that are now in boxes until I build new shelves. Either way, I do not believe the term is original with him. A cursory Google Search reveals at least 86 results). His point there is that the current postmodern generation needs more than the analytical, objective approach to defending belief. If belief does nothing to affect me or change me, then it is of no value. This goes well with the current buzzword “missional,” where the church is focused on living out the mission of Christ in the world.

Finally, for my [John] Piper fans, you will enjoy the following Zosima quote in response to his cheerful demeanor:

And if you think I look cheerful, nothing you could say could give me more pleasure. For human beings were created to be happy, and those who are perfectly happy are entitled to say to themselves: “I have carried out God’s will on this earth.” The righteous, the saints, the holy martyrs–they were all happy people (pg. 63).

I hope I have just scratched the surface of this tremendous novel. I am sure there will be more to come.


One Response to “The Brothers Karamozov”

  1. […] I feel that I need to blog this word, because it has hit me from multiple angles this week. I cannot remember ever reading this word or hearing it in conversation prior to this week. This is a new word for me. However, I read this word in a minumum of 4 places this week. First of all, I came across the word rapprochement in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. Secondly, the word has appreared more than once in Nicholas Sparks‘ book Three Weeks with My Brother. Thirdly, it also appeared in a blog post I read earlier in the week (although I don’t have that reference right now).¬† Finally, what prompted this post was the reading of the word in J.B Phillips book, Your God is Too Small. You can find full definitions at and at Merriam Webster’s site. Essentially, it is synonomous with reconciliation. I can’t tell you how this word has haunted me. The sources in which I found it are entirely unrelated. I am glad I am well-informed of its definition now. […]

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