Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Death to Life - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Luke 9:23 And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
It’s strange but true. Only when we have grasped the reality of death can we understand the meaning of life. Charles Colson in The Good Life tells the story of the great nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). This gifted author, who wrote Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880), experienced this paradox in an unexpected and dramatic way.
Enamored with French Utopian socialism, the young intellectual attended a meeting that the Russian czar believed was subversive. Because of that, Dostoyevsky was condemned to eight years of hard labor. After he had been in custody for a time, he learned that his sentence had been changed to execution by firing squad. He prepared to die.
On a bleak winter day, Dostoyevsky and his fellow prisoners were marched through the snow in front of the firing squad. As a military official shouted out the death sentences, an Orthodox priest led each man to a platform, giving him an opportunity to kiss the cross the priest carried. Three of the prisoners were then marched forward and tied to a stake.
Dostoyevsky looked on, realizing he would be next in line. He watched the soldiers pull the men’s caps down over their eyes. He felt revulsion in his stomach as the firing squad lifted their rifles, adjusted their aim, and stood ready to pull the triggers. Frozen in suspense, Dostoyevsky waited for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then he heard the drums start up again. But they were beating retreat! He watched, stunned, as the firing squad lowered their rifles and the soldiers removed the prisoners’ caps from their eyes. Moments from death, everything changed. Their lives would be spared.
Immediately after this incident, Dostoyevsky wrote a letter to his brother about the change the experience had brought about in him: “When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul—then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift. … Now, in changing my life, I am reborn in a new form. Brother! I swear that I will not lose hope and will keep my soul and heart pure. I will be reborn for the better. That’s all my hope, all my consolation!”
We are certainly not endorsing this man’s theology or specific beliefs, but one thing is clear. Dostoyevsky’s near execution and the eight dreary years in a Siberian prison gave him a unique gift: the ability to see life from its end. He understood what really mattered in a way that many people never do. And this perspective equipped him to write great novels filled with incredible insights into the human condition and into the battle between good and evil.
Dostoyevsky’s novels helped keep religious faith (as he understood it) alive during the seventy years of Soviet repression. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident whose Nobel Prize-winning books exposed the repression of the Soviet gulag, took many of his cues from Dostoyevsky. Through Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents who treasured Dostoyevsky’s work, Dostoyevsky’s suffering proved an indirect but powerful force in toppling the evil Soviet regime.
When I read Colson’s account I imagined myself in Dostoyevsky’s situation. How focused my life would be, how grateful my heart would be, and how intense my faith would be, if I were literally given my life back at the brink of death. Instead I can become so caught up in the everyday routine of life and miss the precious gift of each moment.
We are not told how the murderous insurrectionist Barabbas reacted when he was taken off death row and avoided crucifixion. When the crowd shouted for Jesus to be put to death instead, Barabbas was suddenly free, though it was he who deserved to die. Did he go on as he had lived before, returning to a life of crime and evil? Or did his “near-death experience” transform his view of the purpose of his life? Did he become a follower of Christ?
The apostle Paul actually had several “near-death experiences,” one of which he described in 2 Cor 1:8–10: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” Paul had to identify with the death of Christ before he could connect with His resurrection. He had to “die” before he could really live.
We so easily take life for granted. Days pass, weeks slip by, seasons change, and years roll along. We float downriver as if life here will go on forever. What do we have to show for our lives? What have we accomplished? What good will we leave behind? If we knew for sure that we were going to die today – but then we didn’t – what difference would it make? Just thinking about it can make all the difference in the world in your life and mine. We are not merely living people who will one day die. We are dying people who have been given real life in Jesus Christ. Let’s make the most of it – for Him.
Rom 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Cory Collins

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