Posts tagged ‘Dostoevsky’

December 15, 2012

Wracked in Sorrow, Full of Joy

Today was the Christmas brunch at work. Amidst the celebration of the birth of our Lord, we were also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company. In Connecticut, they were dealing with the tragedy of a school shooting. I was among those that had not yet heard about the shooting and it was not mentioned at the brunch. Throughout the afternoon, details trickled in, new spread in passing, and I threw myself into my work for the dual purpose of completing it and distracting myself from the ugliness. I still haven’t read anything more than headlines.

Late in the afternoon, a friend instant messaged me, unable to reconcile herself with a day featuring a school shooting and a Christmas party; the violent death of many children and the birthday party for one. I had nothing to say to her. Why was there a demand upon her to be reconciled? Why was there a demand upon me to respond to her confession? How could I myself be reconciled? How could I respond to her, especially when my response was to avert my eyes?

Ten minutes later, which felt like an hour, I could only offer a crude paraphrase of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, “take them separately, I guess. Full of joy at the celebration. Wracked with sorrow at the shooting. In orthodoxy, Chesterton describes that as the Christian life. One of contradictory extremes that together keep us balanced.”

The man himself said (among other profound things in the fifth chapter entitled The Flag of the World):

Take another case: the complicated question of charity, which some highly uncharitable idealists seem to think quite easy. Charity is a paradox, like modesty and courage. Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things—pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people… A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t… In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that [thieves] inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.

So, we must be horrified at an individual who would slaughter children. Christ said in the book of Mark that whoever causes a child to sin, it’d be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck – definitely no love for sin. But this is also the same Christ who so valued the life of each every sinner that he died that they may have the opportunity for life.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan rejects Christianity, not so much on a demand for proof as his inability to reconcile the suffering of children with the idea of a benevolent, omnipotent God. His logic is impeccable. But it fails. In his rejection of sin he rejects any moral authority outside of his own dictation; in becoming his own moral compass he becomes his own deity, with no obligation, moral or otherwise, to anyone outside himself. The suffering of children is the basis of his atheism, but it is his atheism that allows him to be indifferent to the reality of sin, to the suffering of others, and to the murder of his father, to the point where he is not just indifferent, not just complicit, but directive in murder and suffering.

This is not a glib altar call. This is certainly not an altar call for those searching for meaning in the face of tragedy. There is no meaning or reason in murdering children. Trying to stare such in the face is as trying to stare directly into a bright light in a dark room – I am immediately forced to look away. To think that a child (such as my baby sister who is now eight years old) could die before me, to think of a family (like mine) being ripped apart as such, wrecks me. There is a chance I will live to be fifty one day; but there are twenty people in Connecticut who definitely will not – twenty children who before their deaths had not sinned as much as I have. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but I have sinned more than a great many people, and certainly a child has sinned less than most.

I am just searching for a way to respond. A response that allows us to deny the existence of God only allows us to cope with the disaster only in as much as it allows us to deny the humanity of those who died, to deny the ravaged humanity of the sinner, and the humanity of the suffering. Instead, let us stare into the bright light and rend our souls for the dead, tear our clothes, and unseal our tear ducts. Let us put ash on our heads for the sinner but certainly let us not calmly reason away the horror of sin. I don’t know how to forgive the sinner seventy times seven times and yet condemn the violence to the fullest extent, but I know that it must be done. It is a paradox, but I want good things to run wild.