Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Answer to Ivan's question...

In his masterpiece of literary fiction, the Brother's Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky sets forth the compelling riveting dilemma of God and the reality of human suffering. Ivan, the intellectual brother in the Karamazov trio, has encountered in the notion of God a conflict which he himself can not seem to resolve. He is a “collector” of little stories of human suffering, all which contribute to his unreconciled desire for the actualization of justice. Ivan's dilemma consists mainly of his desire to see the wrongs suffered by the innocent avenged. As he puts it to to Alyosha, “It's not God that I don't accept, you understand, it's this world of God's created by God that I do not accept and cannot agree to accept”.1 Ivan has a “childlike conviction” that the sufferings of all mankind will be smoothed over one day, and that all the irreconcilable things of this world will be reconciled, but he refuses to accept it. He doesn't care what may happen, he even wishes to see this take place, but he will not accept it when it does. Ivan even acknowledges his incompetence in understanding God's will, and isn't put off by that. “Who wants to know this damned good and evil at such a price? The whole world of human knowledge is not worth the tears of that little child to 'dear God.'”2 Ivan refuses to accept a world where the mother of a suffering child forgives her child's tormentor. To him, such “smoothing over” of crimes is unacceptable, and even unjust. This is his suffering, and one can almost hear him dare anyone to answer his question, if they can. Answer why a loving God would build the salvation of mankind on the suffering on the innocents. But perhaps there is an answer. As the elder, Zosimov, lies dying in his cell, he proceeds to give a deathbed sermon on the world and life, which seems to answer, at least in part, the great dilemma of Ivan. Zosimov calls for all to embrace suffering, and claims that only through suffering will man be happy. The elders' words; “verily, each of us is guilty before everyone, for everyone and everything”3 he would have us believe, are the key to unlock Ivan's great struggle with suffering. The three components of this accountability include the intertwining of suffering and salvation, Isolationism, and the burden of freedom.
The source of Ivan's dilemma lies in his perspective of human suffering. He sees human suffering as being the foundation upon which salvation is accomplished, and if so, then God is a cruel and inhumane god. How could a God who is good and merciful and kind base his system of human redemption on the tears of a child? Ivan can not accept this. He refuses to accept this notion that God would allow for the unavenged degradation of innocents, and thus he respectfully “turns in his ticket”.
Using the claim of the innocent children is all well and good, because it illustrated perfectly the falleness of the entire world, and not just of mature adults. The whole earth fell when man fell, and thus all men must bear the burden of Adam's sin. All, from the old man who will die tonight to the child just conceived. All are accountable for everything before everyone, and thus all suffer the communal death chosen by Adam. Even the earth itself fell, and was corrupted by sin, not of its own volition of course, but nevertheless corrupted. Thus it is that we have earthquakes and natural disasters. Thus it is that nature, a force so creative and beautiful, is also a source of destruction. Mirrored in the corruption of sin that we brought to a sinless world is the corruption of pollution. The rottenness within can not help but find physical signs of expressing it's torment. But even now, the resurrection is taking place, even now as we speak. In the little corners of mens' hearts the battle is won and lost. Ivan claims that our salvation, that the resurrection, takes place on the backs of the children's suffering. And it is true, that suffering is indeed the root of our salvation, for “by his stripes we were healed”. It is the one true innocent one who was sacrificed, the unblemished lamb who took all our sufferings to the cross and died there, so that death may no longer reign over us. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”4 Suffering is redemptive, because through this continual death to the corrupted life and to sin, Paradise is brought forth upon the earth. In this sense, Paradise and suffering can coexist together, just as righteousness and sin coexist in the human soul. The resurrection is an ongoing process, and men are called to die to this world in order that the fullness of joy and glory can transcend the physical and touch their world. Suffering does not separate man from happiness, but rather unifies him with it. This life is Paradise, and it is through the knowledge of accountability that man accepts brotherly love that Paradise really happens.
But now for the climax of the issue. Ivan wishes to see retribution, here, before his eyes. He wants justice to be wrought upon the earth, and in the measure that he himself declares. As Ivan says in regards to a child murderer; “Well, what to do with him? Shoot him? Shoot him for our moral satisfaction”5 However, as Zosimov says, “everyone is accountable to everyone for everything” and once this is realized on the earth, man will realize how long he has sat in darkness. Mankind needs only to want this and paradise is here. In a sense, Ivan is hopeless to reconcile his dilemma. Ivan will never have what he wants, because he is unwilling to take the necessary step to achieve it, which is accepting accountability for everything before everyone. “Until one has indeed become the brother of all, there will be no brotherhood.”6 In fact, this rebellion of Ivan, who “respectfully returns the ticket”, is a propagator of the great and vicious cycle of human suffering. Ivan's rebellion is a form of the isolation Zosimov speaks of with great vehemence, and most potent a reflection of the great rebellion against God that suicide actually is. Ivan is one of those men who is swallowed up in his isolation. “He loves no one” is exactly the key to his separation from paradise. Ivan is striving to separate himself from everyone, including Katerina, which is why he is departing and breaking off all ties. He is wishing to experience a fullness of life within himself, but out of his efforts comes “not fullness of life, but full suicide, for instead of the fullness of self-determination, he falls into complete isolation.”7 Ivan must learn that he is accountable to humanity and bow an kiss the earth, and realize that his security lies not in his own solitary effort, but in the general wholeness of humanity.
Ivan claims that he seeks the physical manifestation of justice on the earth, and the equality of man upheld. He wishes his own justice to be made the code of human interaction, and such is also the thinking of many scientific and intellectual minds in the world. In this sense he makes the same mistake as many men, including Dostoevsky's literary protagonist, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, he upholds his own sensibilities of justice over divine justice. Zosimov acutely describes the enacting of man's sensibilities of justice as rotten and dangerous, accomplishing the opposite of it's seemed goal. The world is proclaimed free but what lies in their freedom is merely slavery and suicide. Increasing their needs is their freedom, and this leads to isolation for the rich and envy and murder for the poor. Such freedoms and unity are false, do not believe them. Rather, again the necessity of acknowledging accountability for everyone for everything, is the root of true equality and freedom in the broken world. “Equality is only in man's spiritual dignity, and only among us will that be understood.”8 Zosima claims, and declares that through the great human communion of brotherly love the “dream” of unity will be achieved. Ivan desires that forgiveness be withheld from those who do not “deserve” it, but who is he to cast judgment upon his fellow man. Even that madman who tore apart the little boy, even for the sake of that little child who beats her chest with her tiny fist, justice is not his to execute. In fact, Ivan's own logic is what propagates the cycle of hatred and isolation which tears apart the human race, and does not unite it at all. Ivan in the Grand Inquisitor, sets forth that Christ made a mistake in giving man this ultimate freedom. “Did you forget that peace and even death are dearer to man than free choice in the knowledge of good and evil?”9 This Grand Inquisitor accuses God, dares to claim he understands more than God himself, his own system over God's. In holding freedom over all, Ivan claims that Jesus has given man a task to great for him. Not only does this completely contradict scripture, but what is the worm that he should say to his creator, “I know my needs better than you”. Ludicrous! Does the Grand Inquisitor not know that freedom is exactly what it is, freedom? That no matter how man may thrash, he is exceedingly free to choose how he will live his life? This choice is before all men, and is indeed a burden, for man must now realize that he is accountable to all humanity and to God for his decision, and no one else can make his decision for him. The grand Inquisitor claims that man needs a universal ruler, but denies man of the singular unifying factor of brotherly love, whose source is the knowledge of accountability. This freedom, God's freedom, is the source of the knowledge of accountability, and it is through this knowledge that the dream of peace which all men long for will be accomplished.
Ivan's struggle is a real and compelling dilemma that most face at some time in their lives. But under the understanding that all are guilty before all, for everyone and everything, all things work together for the glory of God. The causes and roots of the evil which Ivan sees in the world will be shaken out at last, if mankind but embrace this crucial perspective. Isolation, the coexistence of suffering and paradise, and the seemed burden of freedom are all venues which prove this maxim to be the foundation on which all future happiness for man shall be accomplished

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