Archives For Dostoevsky

It’s all around us at every moment, yet we never see it. It runs through us, in every thought, every gesture, every strand of DNA. It is present in every great world event, in every circumstantial triviality, in ever beat of every heart.

It is the presence of God. The involvement of the Almighty in the world he created. Biblically speaking, the question “Where can God be found?” is nonsense. The question “Where can God NOT be found?” gets us closer to reality, but it’s still invalid. Psalm 139 uses rhetorical questions to drive the point home: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?”

Foggy Vineyard

Every Christian has known this from their first Sunday School lesson, but in my experience, we are almost completely blind to the presence of God in our world.

God is present in our church services, in our Bible reading, and in our small groups. He rejoins us when we do an act of service or say a prayer. We may sometimes see him in our family life. But other than that, we’re blind. We have relegated God to religious moments, to Christian activities, to spiritual books.

But God is not so bound; we need to learn to open our eyes. You have never engaged in a secular task. You have never left a sacred space. You have never walked out of God’s presence. You have never attempted a feat too big for God’s power, nor have you slumped into an activity too trivial for his active concern. Everything you do matters to God. Everything you see and think and apathetically pass by involves the Creator of all.

Our lives would change dramatically if we could only see the God who is there at every moment. I often use this quote from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov because I find it so helpful:

“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.”

We’re not to “love the universe” in a hippy, “we’re all one with the Cosmic One, man,” kind of way. But if we actually looked at what was around us—using the senses God gave us—we would see that this world is full of wonder. Every bit of it. And if we began to notice the wonder pressing in on us at every moment, we would be overcome by the kind of place we inhabit. By the kind of people we are. By the miracles that surround us at every moment. And when we become overwhelmed by the reality we take for granted, we can begin to ask David’s question with the same rhetorical conviction: “Indeed, where CAN I flee from your presence?”

Step outside and you’re in the presence of trees that steal sunshine, inhale carbon dioxide, and miraculously produce green living matter even as they exhale precious oxygen for us to breathe. Step outside and there’s always the possibility that you’ll be hit with water that God pulls up out of rivers and oceans, flies through the air for miles, and then deposits onto dry ground—thereby watering his enormous garden.

Sunset 1

Sit in your car and be propelled at unbelievable speeds by the fire burning at many hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit just a few feet in front of you. Enjoy the cool air that God’s image bearers have learned to create by harnessing the power of explosions in your engine.

Check your smart phone and consider the “air waves” that miraculously and invisibly transport whatever your phone is doing through space. Be amazed that God made a world in which such things are possible and created image bearers who could learn to create devices to send, receive, process, and share this kind of invisible information in nanoseconds.

Go to your office and marvel that God uses industries to provide for his world—distributing food, enriching lives, shaping social interactions, providing safety, spreading information, and the millions of other activities that we call “work” and that God uses to care for the people he created.

You will never spend a second of your life outside of God’s presence. You will never engage in any activity that is not in some way related to what God is doing in this world.

It’s there. He’s there. All around you. In everything. Working. Shaping. Calling. Grieving. Redeeming.

And you’re there. In the world. In your very specific setting. As God’s image bearer. As his ambassador. Extending God’s care to the people around you, whether that be through technology or agriculture or customer service or industrial production. Your work ties in to God’s. Your “secular” activities are anything but. Your “boring” moments are anything but. Your “insignificance” is anything but.

Open your eyes. See the world. See God. And live the prayer: “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Go Easy on Miley

Mark Beuving —  September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

Miley Cyrus Twerking CensoredEvery non-mountain-recluse in America knows about the infamous Miley Cyrus incident on the VMAs last week. (For you mountain-recluses, Miley performed a song and dance routine that was so filthy, the title “suggestive” barely applies.) It wasn’t exactly family television.

But for a few reasons, I say go easy on Miley. We’ve all had time to freak out about it, now it’s time to think about the bigger picture.

Some perceptive observers have pointed out that Robin Thicke was also on stage. As a much older adult, you could make a great case that he should have known not to take part in a filthy dance with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Is that asking too much of a famous musician? Was he surprised by what happened? Does it matter? Being surprised by a bad situation typically leads the best of us to turn and run.

And then there’s the sad reality that Miley Cyrus didn’t lose her moral compass overnight. The poor girl has been a superstar for many years now. As she’s gotten older, every step towards the “grown up” and provocative she’s ever taken has been rewarded with sales, ratings, and hype. As much as the media wants to appear shocked by this performance, they got exactly what they’ve always wanted: a media storm, through-the-roof ratings, and an outrage that has expressed itself in only one form of action—increased viewership.

Our popstar culture took young Miley gently by the arm, started running full speed toward the edge of a cliff, then stopped abruptly as she went flying over the edge. To the extent that you and I play a part in that popstar culture, we made Miley into a monster, and now we’re calling her one.

Of course, Miley’s not off the hook here. She is a morally responsible human being. And she’s going to reap the ratings/sales benefits of this “mistake” in the days ahead. I doubt the backlash surprised her.

We could all hope that Miley would develop into a better role model for our kids. But I’m not sure we have the right to be surprised when a girl raised in front of unbelievably massive audiences in the midst of three often seedy industries (music, television, and film) isn’t teaching our daughters about modesty and abstinence.

Probably the best step we can all take here is to remember what the Bible says about humanity’s wayward condition (this event proved the Bible right), to talk to our sons and daughters about what they should and shouldn’t expect from the celebrities we all enjoy, and to check our hearts to see how guilty we might be in creating the kind of culture that rewards this kind of behavior. Maybe we could begin to pray for a young woman who appears to be lost in terms of her identity.

Maybe we should go easy on Miley and take a look at ourselves. Odd as it may seem, I can think of no better words to address our proper response to Miley Cyrus “twerking” than those of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ideal monk, Father Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov:

“There can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him, and that he is perhaps most guilty of all for the crime of the one standing before him. When he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. However mad that may seem, it is true. For if I myself were righteous, perhaps there would be no criminal standing before me know. If you are able to take upon yourself the crime of the criminal who stands before you and whom you are judging in your heart, do so at once, and suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.”

“Suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.” If only we had a role model who could display this profound concept for all of us…

 

The concept of a childlike faith is difficult for us. At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve been running from childishness. I have spent a lot of time and money refining my thinking, challenging my naïve assumptions, and generally maturing the way I view everything. We all do this to varying degrees (and with varying degrees).

But growing more intelligent and mature often comes with an unintended side effect. We gain a lot of perspective, but we also lose a lot of perspective. As we begin to “understand” the world better, it begins to lose some of its wonder for us.

In a very real sense, children see the world more clearly than we do. Two very different events this week triggered this insight for me. On the one hand, I’ve been clued in to my oldest daughter’s reactions to things on our evening walks. On the other hand, I finally finished reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I definitely didn’t expect these two things to speak to me in unison.

Most evenings my wife and I walk about three miles with both girls in our “Double Bob” stroller. Halfway through our walk we stop at the park to let the girls play. As I talk with my wife about life as we experience it, my oldest daughter (Abigail, 2.5 years old) calls out the things that catch her interest. She sees dandelions. Doggies. Pinecones. She admires the flowers along our walk and wants to say hello to everyone we pass.

The other day we had a rare Southern California thunderstorm. Abigail stood in the rain with her princess umbrella and was genuinely amazed at the thunder. Where is it? Who is making that sound? Why can’t I see it?

For a child, the world is literally wonderful. How many dandelions have I walked past without admiring their fascinating design? How often do I just head down the street on my way to wherever without noticing the world and the people around me? This world is insane, and right now my daughter is recognizing it in small ways. In small ways that are far more profound than most of the serious discussions I have as an adult.

A number of factors pushed me to be reading Dostoevsky around this same time. His brilliant writing has helped me put my daughter’s simple insights into theological perspective. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reminds us through his idealized monk, Zosima:

“Look at the divine gifts around us: the clear sky, the fresh air, the tender grass, the birds, nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, we alone, are godless and foolish, and do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty, and we shall embrace each other and weep…”[1]

Of course, we can’t forget that the natural world is stained by sin as well. But Dostoevsky’s point is well taken: we live every day of our lives in a paradise that proclaims God’s glory. Take note.

Yet it’s not enough to notice the world around us. We must also love it as the good creation of God:

“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.”[2]

So here’s what I learned this week. We shouldn’t get so caught up in our serious little grown-up world that we forget to acknowledge that we live in God’s grand, glorious, playful, and always surprising world. We do need to be serious. We do need to be mature. But let us not give up on the childlike vision that sees the world for what it is: a place saturated with the awe and mystery of the God who fashioned it. I have been trying to keep this in mind this week, and when I have any measure of success, it’s like a new and surprising world suddenly appears around me.

 

 


[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990) 299.

[2] Ibid., 319.

Gentle High Priests

Mark Beuving —  April 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

This morning I read about Jesus as our high priest:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Hebrews always surprises me, because I tend to go out of my way to emphasize Jesus’ deity. The author of Hebrews, on the other hand, often emphasizes Jesus’ humanity (the most startling statements to this effect are in chapter 2, where it even says that Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect”). In Hebrews 4 and 5, Jesus is compared to Israel’s high priests. We are told that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was human—he was tempted “in every respect” (the same phrase as in chapter 2) as we are. He didn’t sin, but his real humanity makes him sympathetic, merciful, gracious.

This is how a high priest ought to be: sympathetic. Hebrews follows this statement about Jesus’ compassion as a high priest with a description of Israel’s high priests:

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.” (Hebrews 5:1-3)

The passage is making a point about Jesus by comparing him to earthly priests. The same logic is in place in 5:1-3 as in 4:14-16. The high priest experiences all of the weaknesses that come from being human, so he can “deal gently” with “the ignorant and wayward.”

Here is the question that came to my mind: If Jesus is sympathetic with sinners because he was tempted, how much more so should sinful high priests be sympathetic and gentle with the sinful and weak?

As Christians, we are all priests before God on behalf of the people around us (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6). In this role as priests, we should be more gentle, more sympathetic than even Jesus is—he was tempted, but we have sins of our own that need to be covered.

I don’t see us being more gentle and sympathetic, however. I usually see the opposite. We get frustrated with people because they are sinful. We are harsh with them when they can’t get it right. They claim to repent, then they run back to their sin—and we get frustrated and angry!

But if Jesus is sympathetic as a high priest, shouldn’t we “deal gently” in our intercessory role as priests?

Dostoevsky captures this attitude beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. He has his beloved monk, Zosima, explain:

“There can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him, and that he is perhaps most guilty of all for the crime of the one standing before him. When he understands this, then he will be able to be a judge. However mad that may seem, it is true. For if I myself were righteous, perhaps there would be no criminal standing before me know. If you are able to take upon yourself the crime of the criminal who stands before you and whom you are judging in your heart, do so at once, and suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach.”

Isn’t this the approach of Jesus, who though he is the judge of all things, looked upon the worst criminals on earth, took our crimes upon himself, suffered for us himself, and let us go without reproach? The reality is that God has appointed us to be priests on this earth, so we would do well to “deal gently,” acting with all compassion for the broken people on whose behalf we are called to intercede before God.