Among these favorites is a short excerpt from The Grand Inquisitor chapter of Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov, in which the Grand Inquisitor speaks the following words to Christ:
Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide.
In my previous post, I acknowledged the incompleteness of this condensed vision of what a Christian should do and be -- it contained no reference to heaven, resurrection, or everlasting life. Dr. Charlton shared the following thoughts concerning this incompleteness:
It is a striking passage - if you know what to look for. But to the reader who did not already know - I think it would not communicate what it does to us.
The main thing missing from the definition is resurrection and heaven.
I personally think that this is the most shocking thing about Christianity in the modern world: the offer of life everlasting - it was for me, at any rate.
It is easier for a typical modern Man to believe in a Jesus who changed this world, even a moral miracle-worker Jesus who made the world a better place - than a Jesus whose major claim was to have made possible eternal life.
I agree wholeheartedly. With no awareness of the entirety of Christ's offer, the excerpted passage from The Grand Inquisitor can be easily misunderstood, which is why I have decided to climb to the very peak of Mount Presumption and "enhance" Dosteovsky's encapsulation by including the aforementioned missing elements:
Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely into heaven, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, and with free heart actively choose resurrection and everlasting life, having only Thy image before him as his guide.
Well, what can I say? I'm not Dostoevsky. Nevertheless, I do believe that the addition of heaven, resurrection, and everlasting life completes Dostoevsky's already striking encapsulation of what it means to be a Christian. (In all fairness, Dostoevsky does address heaven, resurrection, and everlasting life within the Grand Inquisitor chapter as well as in the rest of The Brothers Karamazov, but the inclusion of those three elements in the lines above provides a more fulfilled version of what a Christian should do and be).
Yet the fact remains. The original Dostoevsky excerpt does not include any mention of heaven, resurrection, or everlasting life. How then could an encapsulation of Christianity containing such glaring gaps rank among my favorites?
The answer lies in Dr. Charlton's incisive observation about the passage communicating effectively to readers who would know what to look for.
I believe my modified version of the excerpt would be more comprehensible to readers unfamiliar with the gift Jesus offers, but the absence of elements like heaven and resurrection in the unmodified version forces "informed" Christian readers to focus on the essence of their faith in Jesus's offer of everlasting life.
The essence of this faith is simple. It should be:
- directly known
- freely chosen
- keenly discerned
The totality of these aspects combine to form the unconquerable conviction that whole value of man is intrinsically connected to his freely chosen participation in God and Creation -- in his participation in divine life.
This unconquerable conviction, this faith knows that Christ's offer does not reside in the external, in something that is foreign, alien, or strange to man's nature. Nor does it depend on anything external. Instead, it flows forth from the internal, in that part of man that reveals God's likeness to man and man's likeness to God.
It is the understanding that the image of Christ is not outside us but within us.