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This was Tolstoy’s favourite painting, by his artist friend Nikolay Ge. It is called What is Truth? – “showing a solid Pontius Pilate and a fiery-eyed Christ in conversation.” The Russian censors stopped its distribution because it depicted religion as a challenge to government. Christ is defiant here, not submissive, and Tolstoy loved the philosophical implications. Tolstoy had no taste for traditional church art, mostly Madonnas and Saints, that people kissed with devotion.
Tolstoy considered Ge’s work (spelled Gay outside Russia) to be “a new epoch of Christian art…. taking a simple motif… Christ and his teaching in conflict with the teaching of the world… depicted with complete historical accuracy the moment when Christ… after being tormented, beaten and dragged from one jail to another and from one official to another, is brought before the governor… Christ sees before him a deluded man bloated with fat, but he decides not to spurn him… and so begins to express to him the essence of his teaching. But the governor is not concerned with this. He says ‘What is truth?’ and goes away. And Christ looks sorrowful at this impenetrable man” (Tolstoy’s Letters, Volume II, pgs. 460, 462, 467 and 508).
In Tolstoy’s time the typical Russian peasant home had a couple pictures on the wall that they adored each day. An icon of a saint and a picture of the tsar. The one they believed to be God in heaven and the other god on earth. Tolstoy challenged all that, and believed Jesus’ teaching was politically subversive. I agree.
Tolstoy (who loved America but never visited there) had this to say about American politics, American prosperity and America’s salt and light destiny in the world:
“Prosperity, prosperity! What a shameful plea that is, which you American platform-makers address the voters. They do not say, ‘we will give you an honest rightful government,’ but they say, ‘We’ll make you fat and sleek. If you vote for me, you will have a double chin!’ And no one rises to say, ‘What will your full dinner pails profit if while gorging your bellies you lose your immortal souls?’ The fall of America, when I see the deserted shrines of your forefathers, I think it will come more swiftly than came the fall of Rome… [Yet] I know the salt has not yet lost its saver. Listen: ‘We who know the truth, must first change the world in ourselves internally, before the world can be changed in others externally. If we know the truth of life, and do not live it, we are as a lighthouse set upon a hill in which the light has gone out. Forgive me if my judgments have been harsh, or have seemed so. Only remember that you live in a light-house set upon a hill, and that in the last few years, it has seemed to many watchers that the light which was once the light and hope of the world, whose rays penetrated into the uttermost parts of the world, was about to be overwhelmed by shadow. Pray that your Americans would see to that light, and keep it day and night. It is the flame that their fathers lit, and it has become the light of the world, as well as yours. It would be a dark world without it.”
– In “Tolstoy Prophesies the Fall of America” by Stephen Bonsol, New York Times, 7 July 1907.
In response to the above a friend said he wondered what Tolstoy might think of Putin. My reply was: The T-man said he hated three things in this world: Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Militarism which he deemed the three pillars of Russian government. He would NOT be a fan of Putin or the Donald. But then again he rejected all forms of earthly government and pioneered a version of what is considered today Christian Anarchy.
Abeyance. Sounds a bit like obedience but it means practically the opposite. More Christians abey the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount than obey them. Abeyance means a state of temporary suspension. It’s legal term for a temporary abeyance of a law or requirement.
Never would a Christian consider any sort of abeyance of Jesus’ teaching about lust or adultery. There is a never a situation where those are acceptable, even temporarily. However when it comes to not swearing to oaths, turning the other cheek, not-retaliating, not killing anyone… the compromised Church issues all sorts of abeyances.
Tolstoy puts it best:
Do the ministers of the Gospel believe the Sermon on the Mount, including the commandment of non-retaliation, to be of divine origin?… [do they] consider the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment of non-resistance obligatory upon a Christian…. Did Christ practically require his disciples to do that which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount…. May a Christian remain a Christian and still disobey the direct command of Christ; may he promise or conduct himself in a manner directly opposed to the doctrine of Christ, by entering into military service and putting himself in training to be a murderer?… How are we to reconcile those lessons of forgiveness, humility, patience, and love towards all mankind, our neighbours as well as our enemies, taught us by the Teacher, which dwell in the heart of each of us, with the necessities caused by military aggression against our own countrymen as well as against foreigners? (36-37, The Kingdom of God is Within You)
The commandment against fornication they [clergy] acknowledge without reservation, and in no case will they ever admit that this sin is not evil. There are no circumstances mentioned by the clergy when the commandment against fornication may be broken, and they always insist that the occasions for this sin must be avoided. But in regard to non-resistance that is a very different matter. Every clergyman believes that there are circumstances wherein this commandment many be held in abeyance, and they preach accordingly…. Clergymen have never been known to advocate the breaking of any other commandment, but in regard to the doctrine of non-resistance, they distinctly teach that this prohibition must not be taken to literally, that so far from always obeying this commandment, one should on occasion follow the opposite course– that is, one should sit in judgment [on a jury], should go to war, and should execute criminals. (p 40-41, The Kingdom of God is Within You).
“But as far as his worldview, Trump’s worldview, you know… I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation…. “Nowhere is government told to forgive those who wrong it. Nowhere is government told to turn the other cheek. Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find. And I believe that’s biblical.”
Trump is as much a Christian as Obama, in my view. Regarding an issue very important to me, to all the other little people like me all over the world, and to Jesus, neither Obama or Trump are men of peace. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.
Lance Wallnau made a comment recently that we should all think long and hard about; “Christ in you is the hope of glory, not Christ in the White House. What do you think, should we really give up hope on any sort of notion of a Christian (Christlike) nation? The Sermon on the Mount is what Christlikeness looks like.
My friends on the Christian Right (who BTW consider me a grand disappointment) have long been saying we need to elect people who represent “Biblical values.” Apparently we now learn from Pastor Jeffries those are not the values of Jesus. Apparently it is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, he believes may work on a micro level but not in a macro application.
In Pastor Jeffrees re-reading of the infamous Sermon on the Mount he in so much imagines Jesus ascended the Mount to say: “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”
When will the Christian Right wake up to how inconsistent they are in valuing all human life? Bombs away, Jesus love you!
Ya, ya, ya… here comes someone to remind me of Romans 13 (someone who apparently has never read Romans 12: if your enemy is hungry, feed him… overcome evil with good, etc).
How many times do I have to say this?… In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?
For those genuinely conflicted on the application of the Sermon on the Mount to anything beyond an individual Christian life I offer the following (which will soon appear in a book I’m now putting the finishing touches on: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount).
From chapter seven of my forthcoming book:
The two main interpretative questions for the Sermon on the Mount, again, are; Is it liveable? and; To whom is it for? Over the centuries, very few interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount have given the Sermon application beyond the individual believer. The contention is that the ethic was given to individuals, not to nation-states. Yet, Tolstoy challenged this entirely and sought to settle this centuries-old ambiguity with a simple appeal to the words Jesus actually used in Matthew 5:43-44 (and what they would have meant to his original hearers); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” Tolstoy explained: [N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality. Therefore the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’”
Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation. Tolstoy spoke of “the widening sphere of love” and believed a nation could be loved too…. Tolstoy believed obedience to the teachings of Jesus worked on both the micro and the macro level. Goodness on a small scale does not somehow become badness on a larger scale and he decried the notion that badness on a small scale could be construed as goodness on a larger scale…
Back in our youth ministry days we would make beaded Gospel bracelets to help youth understand and share their faith. The dark bead represents sin and life in spiritual darkness and separation from God. Red represents the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross for our sin. White is the result…. our sins washed white as snow. We are forgiven and cleansed by His Blood. Green represents the season of spiritual growth and fruitfulness. Gold is for rewards in heaven. (The Baptists like to add a blue bead for Baptism.)
Last fall I decided to start wearing my old bracelet again– so I’d be reminded to keep the Gospel central during my sojourn back into academia. Honestly I’ve been mildly bothered that the bracelet is hardly eschatologically correct. Today I wandered around a bead shop and came up with this new one.
The colors are the same until you get to the green bead. At this point I’ve added a tri-colored bead: red, green and white to symbolize the three colors of martyrdom which I speak of in my Fall Away Factor Book. Here’s the backstory there:
A Celtic monk in the seventh century named Cambrai, in what we call the Cambrai Homily, outlined three categories of martyrdom designated by colors; red, green and white. Red martyrdom refers to when blood is shed; when they lop off your head or throw you to the lions. If Christ is indeed first, our safety and security is at least a distant second. Interestingly, the Celtic saints never faced a period of red martyrdom but they still knew the call of Christ was to lose your life to find it. So Cambrai spoke also of green martyrdom to refer to those who leave behind comforts and pleasures, deny their flesh, assuming vows of poverty and chastity or living simply and frugally. White martyrdom is the separation from loved ones. It’s kissing your family goodbye before getting on a ship to sail to a faraway place to spend your life reaching the people God calls you to reach. (The term white martyrdom was first used by St. Jerome, a desert hermit in the third century).
If I were writing the Fall Away Factor book again today I’d add a fourth color of martyrdom, gray. Following Jesus and following the Church are not always the same thing. Gray martyrdom represents excommunication, being shunned and regarded as dead. Gray martyrdom is when following Jesus means you disaffiliate and break with the traditions of man. Jesus took a different path than the religious leaders of his day. Martin Luther was defrocked. Tolstoy was excommunicated. Gray is for hearts of stone.
After the gray bead, I’ve placed a thin gold bead for the reward we receive in heaven. But it’s a thin bead because heaven as we know it is only the temporary abode of the dead. In short order, the dead are raised and we are back living with Jesus here on the earth. This I represented in the earthen bead. The meek will inherit the earth.
My world for the next few months is all things Tolstoy. I’m onto an important linkage between Tolstoy and Bonhoeffer but I’ll not spell all that out here. Hopefully some of my findings will make their way into a book I’m writing called: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey The Sermon on the Mount.
Obey the Sermon on the Mount. What a novel idea, huh?
Here’s a crash course to give the basics needed to explain this fascinating Fresco which is my interest in this post.
Tolstoy was a famous and successful nineteenth century Russian novelist who wrote what is considered the greatest novel ever written, War & Peace. That would be what I’m calling First Tolstoy – his literary writings. Second Tolstoy is my designation for the second half of his prolific life– his religious writings; mostly a call to obey the Sermon on the Mount. He was anything but orthodox and rejected significant dogma we’d think is orthodox, and he was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s more complicated than that but simply put, he believed the Church had become a great hindrance to the Gospel and was full of superstition, paganism and idolatry. Tolstoy was a reformer who had no interest to reform the Church. The Church was too far gone. Best to go back to the plain meaning of the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.
Tolstoy died in 1910. However this Fresco was sanctioned (27 years earlier) by the Orthodox Church in 1883, the year Tolstoy published his first book on obeying the Sermon on the Mount (My Religion – What I Believe).
Gotta love the Church /S.
Tolstoy was deemed a “madman.” If Tolstoy was mad for his adherence to Jesus’ teaching, what would that make Jesus? What a paradox that literal obedience to the teaching of Christ is still considered crazy radical even in Christian circles today.