Quotable, The Brothers Karamazov

What’s strange, what would be marvelous is not the God should really exist. The marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man. So holy it is, so touching, so wise, and so great a credit it does to man. As for me I’ve long resolved not to think whether man created God or God man. I’m trying to explain my essential nature, what I believe in and for what I hope. I accept God simply. But note, if God exists, and if he really did create the world, then he created it according to the geometry of Euclid and the human mind with the conception of only three dimensions in space. Since I can’t understand even that, I can’t expect to understand about God. How could I solve problems that are not of this world? Whether God exists or not? All such questions are utterly innappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions. And so I accept God and am glad to. And what’s more I accept his wisdom, his purpose which are utterly beyond our kin. I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life. I believe in eternal harmony. I believe in the word to which the universe is striving and which itself was with God, which itself is God and so on, to infinity. Yet, in the final result I don’t accept this world of God’s. And although I know it exists, I don’t accept it at all. It’s not that I don’t accept God you must understand. It’s the world created by him I don’t and cannot accept. I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage. That in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of allresentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed, that it will make it not only possible to forgive, but to justify all that has happened with men. But though all that may come to pass, I don’t accept it. I won’t accept it. Alyosha that’s my creed. I’m in earnest.

(Why don’t you accept the world?)

I could never understand how one could love one’s neighbors. By my mind one can’t love one’s neighbors, though one might love those at a distance. I once read somewhere of John the merciful, a saint that when a hungry frozen beggar came to him, he took him into his bed, held him in his arms and began breathing into his mouth, which was putrid and loathsome from some awful disease. I’m convinced that he did that from self-laceration, from the self-laceration of falsity, for the sake of the charity imposed by duty as a penance laid on him. For anyone to love a man he must be hidden. For as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.

The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky

There are two reasons this quote fascinates me.
1. Ivan understands very clearly the tension between Jesus’ command to love God and his command to love our neighbors. In a sense it is quite easy to love God, but on the other hand it is very difficult to love our neighbors. So much so that it inevitably leads Ivan to reject God himself. More practically if one does accept God and ‘loves him,’ there can be a tendency to withdraw from men for their vileness. Ultimately I agree with Dostoevsky that Alyosha is the hero, but I can certainly relate to Ivan.
2. Ivan calls any sort of expression of love to any certain man (rather than mankind in general) ‘self-laceration.’ He says the only motivation one might have to care for another would be a sort of pretentious self-flagellation. Christ himself is the answer to both the first question and this second one. When we gaze into the humility of Christ we can ourselves stoop with humility to help our fellow man, even when we see his face.

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