So I was full of anticipation when I fell upon a new biography of Dostoevsky by Dr. Peter Leithart. Dr. Leithart is a pastor and professor of theology and literature in Idaho, and does a wonderful job in this short summary of the life of one's of the world's greatest novelists.
The book is written in such a way that it feels like one of Dostoevsky's own novel. He paints Dostoevsky in several flashbacks as the famous author sits with a friend near the end of his life. Dostoevsky himself was a master of generating psychological tension and struggle, and Leithart does the same, letting us into the heart of the writer as he struggles with the crosses of his life.
Dostoevsky does not appear to us as a perfect man, but one who offered his own flaws as a sacrifice to God, transforming him into a prophet for Russia and all of modernity. For his own sufferings gave him a vision that allowed him to see Christ in the heart of his fellow man, and the necessity of Christ for his mother Russia.
Early on he appears as a different man. Leithart tells us that he read Job as a child and throughout his life for "when he read it, he received the seed of God into his heart. Every time he read it...he felt he was gulping down a flood of grace." As one who struggles with Job as an adult, I stand in awe of this experience.
Russia was in the throes of change, and much of the changes he saw eventually led to the Bolshevik revolution bringing the terrors of communism upon the people of Russia. During his life he saw this developing, and he cried out against these movements like a prophet crying out in the wilderness. Russia teetered on the brink of Christ and Atheism, and it was difficult to tell which way it would fall.
For Dostoevsky, the answer to Russia's struggle with modernity was Christ, and to deny him would bring certain death. Russia unlike the West could not sterilize Christ and survive; it was Christ or hell.
He came to these conclusions because he experienced Christ through his interactions with the peasants and commoners of Russia, his near-execution and imprisonment in Siberia, his persecution at the hands of the avant-garde literati, and his own physical maladies.
Modernity wanted the kingdom of God with Christ. They wanted the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God, the lion lying down with the lamb, but not the Crucifixion. For even with Christ, the kingdom would not be fully realized until the end of the world. This life would always be a struggle with Christ, but to deny the struggle would make all things meaningless and empty.
Of the Russian intellectuals he poured out wisdom disguised as criticism:
"They were unwilling to sacrifice themselves in a Christlike fashion for the sake of others. Sacrifice everything, even your grandeur and your great ideas, for the general good; stoop down, as low as the level of a child. "
"True religion is suffering, striving, reaching for something that will only be fulfilled in a future life. Politics has to be carried out in the shadow of this same afterlife. Take away that struggle and you take away humanity."
"Christ does not seek friends. He seeks disciples. They want peasant values without peasant religion, and as always they want their good deeds without Christ."
"If you distort the truth of Christ by identifying it with the aims of this world, you instantly lose the meaning of Christianity...Instead of the true ideal of Christ, a new tower of Babel is constructed."
For me this book challenged my own faith, and did what I had hoped, letting me into the heart of a favorite novelist by revealing new depths to the characters and stories I have enjoyed throughout the years.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.