A Dark Road and a Bright Light   6 comments

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This is from the blog Disparate Truths:

I write as my heart is broken, as I anticipated it would be. It was broken by reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. During the many hours I have spent not only reading but also meditating on the message and meaning of this work, I have been, as Dostoevsky might say, drawn into a terrible feeling which has been attempting, for the most part unsuccessfully and frustratingly, to become a thought. Two thoughts, specifically, and I would like to share them.

A very short background to the novel: Dostoevsky’s intent for the novel was “to depict a thoroughly good man,” as he wrote in 1868 to a friend. He saw this as an almost impossible task. Ultimately, the obsessions, intrigues and vices of the world in which the epileptic and kindhearted hero, Myshkin, shows up to in St Petersburg leave him out of his mind in an institution, the only place in this world which seems a fitting abode for such a saint. It is an incredibly moving novel with not a little insight into the human heart and mind. Dostoevsky himself, like the character he created, suffered from epileptic fits during the composition of the novel, and lost his newborn daughter not long after that letter.

The First Thought: A Painting…

In the novel, there is a recurring painting in the dimly lit house of Ragozhin, one of the darkest characters in the novel: it is Holbein’s “Christ Entombed.” One of the characters, Ippolet, reads out to a group gathered for the birthday of Myshkin an incredible critique of the painting. Ippolet is dying of tuberculosis as an 18-yr old boy and reads this excerpt from a longer essay delivered shortly before he fails to commit suicide in front of the party (his gun does not go off and nothing happens).

He reads: “I believe I stood before [the painting] for five minutes. There was nothing good about it from an artistic point of view, but it produced a strange uneasiness in me. The picture represented Christ who has only just been taken from the cross. I believe artists usually paint Christ, both on the cross and after He has been taken from the cross, still with extraordinary beauty of face…In Ragozhin’s picture there’s no trace of beauty. It is in every detail the corpse of a man who has endured infinite agony….It’s true it’s the face of a man only just taken from the cross—that is to say, still bearing traces of warmth and life. Nothing is rigid in it yet, so that there’s still a look of suffering in the face of the dead man, as though he were still feeling it….Yet the face has not been spared in the least. It is simply nature, and the corpse of a man, whoever he might be, must really look like that after such suffering….

“But, strange to say, as one looks at this corpse of a tortured man, a peculiar and curious question arises: if just such a corpse (and it must have been just like that) was seen by all His disciples…by all who believed in Him and worshipped Him, how could they believe that that martyr would rise again?

“Looking at such a picture, one conceives of nature …in the form of a huge machine of the most modern construction which, dull and insensible, has aimlessly clutched, crushed and swallowed up a great priceless Being, a Being worth all nature and its laws, worth the whole earth, which was created perhaps solely for the sake of the advent of that Being…” (380-1, from the Wordsworth edition).

We seldom look upon such a Christ, if ever. Even the feeling which arises from viewing Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” seems small when compared to the painting, in which the body lying there could be any man’s, emaciated, destroyed, hideous. For the same reason, I do not like to think of what I have been through with my depression, the depths to which it has taken me. There is an abyss within the mind where there are no walls, but only what seems to be infinite blackness where one falls and falls but cannot grab hold of anything. For the same reason again, you and I rarely consider the lengths we would go to have what we want, or that the deepest part of our self is that part which considers nothing but itself important, meaningful or worthy, even while whispering to itself that this is most likely untrue.

This was my first thought. It was to meditate upon simply how dead Christ was, and what that death looks like face to face.

The Second Thought: An Abyss of Goodness

This is my second thought: It was that exact emaciated, destroyed and decaying body which lied there after the moment of the most horrible death of the most innocent and loving man, and it was at that exact time, when hope, after being dead for three days, was invisible and hidden behind a total darkness, that God raises up that body at that time as glorified perfection and the embodiment of hope.

My thought is that there are dark valleys which we have not known, but which exist in the human soul and of which only God knows, and that God is already bringing life to these places which are so dark within us that we cannot perceive them.

God has trod the path of absolute darkness, has been in its cave entombed, and has tasted the tasteless lack of all sensation and the terrible, ultimate slipping away.

God not only knows the evil which we also know of and for which we may or may not feel guilty, but the evil which we do without realizing and whose consequences extend innumerably. He sees that death which comes upon us from nature herself and that death which we pursue headlong in the great, wild hunt for that which will assuage our own soul by means of fulfilling its small and petty desires.

God has been there. God has seen it, and understood it more perfectly. God did not shrink from death, even a death as haunting as Holbein’s portrayal. Knowing it, he walked such a path willingly. Knowing us, he follows us persistently. God has reached deeper into my soul than I can ever know to tend to a garden he has planted in a place as barren as West Texas, so that not only can I eat of the fruit which he grows, but also so I may share of the fruit which all but drops into my hands and whose roots I cannot see.

I Didn’t Ask for This…

Overcome by depression a few days ago, I prayed. I wish I had always taken this first step so immediately in my life; it would have saved years of agony. I told God that I didn’t ask for this depression, and that it leads me to a place of spiritual horror where I never wanted to go. I told God that he gave me this, and that he did it on purpose. I said I that this was illogical and from my perspective causeless. But I also told God that he has never done anything but tend to that dark-soul-orchard, whether or not I put up the “no-help-wanted” sign. I concluded that if he wanted me to endure so much pain, he must have a darn good reason for it. And he does.

The greater the death we see, the sweeter will be death’s own death. The more agonizing the portrayal of Christ we can bear by God’s grace, the more the grace of God will be free and beautiful to us. The greater depths of darkness we perceive within ourselves (because they are there), the more joyous and valuable the friendship with this merciful God becomes. If you suffer, I understand, and we can certainly talk about that. But God understands better.

Holbein and Dostoevsky perfectly portrayed the beginning, the first half of the story. But the rest of the story is why the New Testament is obsessed with resurrection: it is the only true starting point for beauty, for hope, and for selfless love, that is, for life. God does not simply wait for his people to do what is good: He is already at work. Praise God.

Posted August 24, 2015 by Tim Shey in Uncategorized

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6 responses to “A Dark Road and a Bright Light

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  1. Pingback: Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky | The Road

  2. This is beautifully written Tim and poignant. We have a scarred Saviour, One who suffered more than any other person has on this earth. He sees our suffering, He shares our suffering and He allows it for a purpose, as you say. “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it does it bears much fruit”. God bless you brother 😀

  3. Tim, you wrote:

    “My thought is that there are dark valleys which we have not known, but which exist in the human soul and of which only God knows, and that God is already bringing life to these places which are so dark within us that we cannot perceive them. God has trod the path of absolute darkness, has been in its cave entombed, and has tasted the tasteless lack of all sensation and the terrible, ultimate slipping away. God not only knows the evil which we also know of and for which we may or may not feel guilty, but the evil which we do without realizing and whose consequences extend innumerably.”

    In my “dark valley” I seem to have open seplechers that belch out the smell of death with words from my mouth at the most unexpected and unacceptable times. When it happens and I am made aware of its effect, the guilt is almost crushing. God did not allow Christ’s body to see corruption, but he did allow it with Lazarus before he was brought back to life again. Oh, that He would have spared me that corruption and those who know me from its stench. Oh, “the evil which we do without realizing and whose consequences extend innumerably.” I thought for years after my dark night period ended that Romans 7 was over, but the more He returns me to my First Love that was lost all those years, the more I find myself doing those things that I would not and not doing what I would do with others. Love can be very painful.

  4. Michael: Thank your for your comment, but I want to remind you that Garrett from the Disparate Truths blog wrote this and not me.

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