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The Psychology of Trials
The brilliant mind of Fyodor Dostoyevsky wove philosophy and psychology into his most significant writings.
The Brothers Karamazov
Crime and Punishment
are Dostoyevsky’s two most prominent novels, and he is also the writer of noteworthy works like
The House of the Dead
Notes from Underground
. In these great works of literature, Dostoevsky explored deep questions using intellectual reasoning in unique and profound ways, with insight that he gained through life experiences.
Dostoyevsky experienced a variety of very trying times in his days on earth, yet through his written works he pointed out the joy that is found within the hope of Christianity. To him, God was a shelter through the troubles in life and the Giver of great hope: “
Faith in [God] is the refuge for mankind…as well as in the hope of eternal bliss promised to the righteous
.” Despite a life that swayed between worldly treasures and Christ, spiritual truths gleam through the writings of the Russian writer.
Born in Moscow, Russia, on November 11, 1821, Fyodor Dostoyevsky grew up surrounded by family members involved in theology, seminary, and priesthood. He was taught the Bible, learned its stories, and studied its pages for many hours even as a boy. This grounding in the Russian Orthodox Church prepared Dostoyevsky for the pain and suffering that would shape his thinking, and ultimately his writing, later in life. His father pointed Fyodor towards engineering, but after completing a degree, the young man pursued his passion of writing.
Taking up the pen, Dostoyevsky became published with the highly acclaimed
. But much like the rest of his life, the success was soon met with trouble. Because of the fear of revolutions, Dostoyevsky was arrested after being found to be a part of an underground intellectual group. He and the other members of the group were sent before a firing squad. With certainty of death likely ingrained in their minds, the group was pardoned, and instead, exiled to Siberia for four years, followed by five years of service in the army.
In prison, the Bible was the only book that Dostoyevsky had access to. This helped shape his future writing. Following his imprisonment, the Russian writer battled financial trouble, the death of his wife, and epilepsy. Surely, these hardships had a significant effect on Dostoyevsky’s perspective of life. But they did not match the joy that could be found in Christ. He wrote, “
If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth
It is difficult the know Dostoyevsky’s heart. Some of his troubles were a direct result of disobeying the Lord. For example, he became an excessive gambler at one point in his life. It is clear that he intellectually emphasized the truth of the gospel. Whether or not his heart exercised spiritual growth is another matter. However, it is not up to us to know Dostoyevsky’s heart, because the Lord knows the heart. What is clear is that his philosophical works had influence on Christians, and his Christian writing, Dostoyevsky’s work and calling, brought glory to God.
How have you maintained your joy in the Lord through trials?
What other great works of literature have you read that influenced your walked with Christ?
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on
The League of Extraordinary Doxologists
. The image of the painting was taken by
I have found solace by reminding myself of the challenging things the LORD has brought me through in the past, when I am faced with difficult trials in my present. In addition, I find that if I maintain my study of the WORD during trials, I am ever mindful of the fact that I am in Really Great Company!
There are a great number of specifically Christian books that have effected me deeply - the works of C.S. Lewis, John Piper's Desiring God, the historical insights of N.T. Wright - but one book that was not really "Christian" at all that effected me spiritually was Carl Sagan's CONTACT. Coming from someone so ardently agnostic, I was surprised at the book's spiritual questions. It was challenging, of course. The main character was very atheist and raises very many important questions throughout the book, but the sense of wonder presented by the way science mixed with philosophy, the vastness of the universe, and familial love was deeply moving and made me think about Christ in several different new lights. The very last sentence of the book is "She had studied the universe all her life, but had missed its clearest message: for small creatures such as we, the vastness was bearable only through love."
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