Every day of my life I've been beating my breast and promising to reform, and every day I've done the same vile things. I understand now that for men such as I a blow is needed, a blow of fate, to catch them as with a noose and bind them by an external force. Never, never would I have risen by myself! But th thunder has struck. I accept the torment of accusation and of my disgrace before all, I want to suffer and be purified by suffering!
All of us struggle to some extent with Dimitri's dilemma, that of promising reform as we go to sleep and swearing to change immediately, the very next morning. We spend half the night thinking of all our sins, recognizing them with revulsion and disgust and then declare in a fit of passion that we are cleansed of the evil, and that in the morning we shall make amends, and the go to sleep convinced of our own transformation. The next morning we arise, and we have forgotten all the beautiful visions of the night and begin again in in debauchery. Or maybe we last for a few days, maybe even weeks, but then we're back. Dimitri recognizes this and blessed is he for this clarity of vision. In the midst of his suffering he is able to witness the transcendental truth behind his suffering, and the meaning behind it all.
“If you come forward to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for temptations...
For just as gold is tested in the fire,
so too are acceptable men in the furnace of humility.” 2
Back at the beginning of the book, Zosimov bowed down to the future great suffering Dimitri would have to bear, and in recognition of the pain he would have to endure. Throughout the book the phrase, “purification through suffering” has been tossed around and invoked by multiple characters, all in reference to so torment they bear. This is a great truth of life, that suffering is the road through which paradise comes into the world. Suffering and God are far from being incompatible. In fact, they are so intertwined as to make redemption impossible without suffering. Christ had to suffer for the sins of mankind, he had to die. It all comes back to the continual process of redemption; that salvation is not an event, but a process that is taking place here and now, in the hearts of all men.
The gospel yesterday was on God as the gardener, cutting off the branches that bear no fruit, and pruning the healthy branches, so that they produce more. I think that as modern American Christians we most often forget the part about “pruning” and its implications. God puts us through suffering and trials in order that we might grow. Temptations are chances for us to grow in virtue, not pitfalls in which there can only be failure. The devil certainly hates us getting close to the Lord, so he throws every distraction our way, especially if we pose a threat to his evil plans. (My mom used to flatter me by saying that all my near-death experiences were because the devil saw me as a potential threat and tried to eliminate me as quickly as possible. It's very flattering indeed to think that way. But protect me form pride, Lord.) This is true, and so many ask “Well, why does God allow bad things to happen?” Percicely because it is through this suffering and trial that we grow and produce more fruit for the kingdom. We need these times to become spiritually mature, just as we need times of fasting and exercise to purify our bodies of unnecessary junk or inhibiting excess. Suffering is the pruning shears, and we are the vine. If we bear good fruit then we should expect hardships to come our way, and accept them joyfully, for they are what bring us closer to Jesus.
1.Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 509.
2. Sirach 2:1,5