A Few Thoughts on God and Creation

What does the Bible say about creation?

1. God created the universe out of nothing.

  • Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Hebrew Bara – translated “created” means “creation from nothing” (Latin ex nihilo – “out of nothing”)

2. God created the universe by the power of his word. 

  • Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26 – “And God said” and “Let there be” or “Let the. . .”
  • Hebrews 11:3 – “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
  • Psalm 33:6, 9 – “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. . . For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
  • Psalm 148:5 – “Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.”

3. God created the universe to show his glory. 

  • Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
  • Revelation 4:11 – ““Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
  • Jeremiah 10:12 – “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.”

Take Away: God created the universe out of nothing by the power of his word to show his glory.

What does creation reveal about God? 

God is the only God. God is Trinitarian. God is eternally uncaused. God is living. God is independent. God is transcendent. God is immanent. God is personal. God is powerful. God is beautiful. God is holy. God is a prophet. God is gracious. God is a sovereign king.

Transcendent – majestic and holy, far greater than his creatures.

  • Ps. 113:4 – “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?”

Immanent – near and present, fully involved with his creatures.

  • Acts 17:27–28 – “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.”

Take Away: Creation is distinct from God, yet always dependent on God.

How did God describe creation after he created it? 

  • Genesis 1:31 – “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:4 – “For everything created by God is good. . .”

Take Away: The universe God created was very good.

Some Major Take Aways on the Doctrine of Creation

1. God created the universe out of nothing by the power of his word to show his glory.

2. Creation is distinct from God, yet always dependent on God.

3. The universe God created was very good.

Above are a blend of notes from Driscoll and Breshears’ Doctrine and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. All scripture references are from the ESV.  Obviously much more could and should be said about God and creation, but I found these thoughts helpful and I pray they draw you closer to the Creator.

How does all this fit together?

Have you ever looked at the Bible and thought, “How does all this fit together?” This is an honest question and many theologians have used the diversity of the Scriptures to force their views of disunity on Scripture. However, is there a theme that displays the unity of diversity in the Bible? Dr. John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando highlights how Reformed theologians have found the covenant motif as a helpful way to see unity in Scripture:

Traditionally, these writers have found in Scripture two major covenants, sometimes called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The former embraces the pre-fall period. In it God offers an eternal life of blessedness (symbolized by the tree of life) to Adam and Eve on the condition that they abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After the fall into sin, God sets forth the covenant of grace: a promise of redemption through the divine Messiah received through faith alone. 

The covenant of grace, in turn, encompasses, on the traditional view, all the post-fall historical covenants, including those with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, and the “new covenant” effected by the blood of Jesus himself, of which the earlier covenants are but anticipations. 

On this understanding, the whole Bible, diverse in content as it may appear at first sight, can be seen as a story of God making covenants and man responding to them. The books of law show what God expects of his covenant people. The books of history indicate man’s actual response. The psalms contain the praise, the laments, the questionings, the blessings and cursings that should be on the lips of a covenant people. The wisdom books contain applications of the covenant lawsuit against the covenant-breakers while at the same time promising covenant renewal. The Gospels and Acts present the history of the new covenant, which is applied to believers and to world history in the Epistles and Revelation (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, p.146-147)

I found this explanation helpful and I pray it blesses you. If this is true and I believe it is, how will we respond to the contra-conditional and covenantal love of our Triune God?

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV).

The Trinity and Humility

I have been given the opportunity to lead a Sunday morning group on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith this semester. Last week I asked my good friend, Justin Kohns, who is in this group to be prepared to discuss how an understanding of the Trinity ought to produce humility in Christians. God blessed Justin with some great content and he has allowed me to share it with you. I hope you enjoy what Justin has to say on this subject as much as I do. 

The Trinity and Humility 

by Justin Kohns

Sometimes studying doctrine can seem disconnected from our personal holiness. The Bible even says that knowledge can “puff up” our minds if it is independent of us growing in love. To be on guard against this, we should always seek to connect what we know with how we live. Our doctrine should shape our thoughts, attitudes and actions. Our “head” must inform and transform our “hands.” This is a brief explanation of how the doctrine of the Trinity can and should produce humility in us.

How does a deeper understanding of the Trinity produce humility in us?

I can answer this question a couple ways.   First, there is a sense of mystery to the doctrine of the Trinity, and our inability to fully grasp it should produce humility in us.  The doctrine of the Trinity transcends reason and logic.   It is hard to fully comprehend or easily explain.   Yet it is true.   So when studying the Trinity we are confronted with a truth that our minds are too small to fully grasp or explain.   We are left with this realization:  ultimate truth is not found at the apex of human thought.  There is truth that is beyond us.   Knowing our limits produces humility.  While we are privileged that God has revealed himself to us, and given us capacities of intellect and reason, we should be reminded that those capabilities are a gift from God (so that no one should boast) and that they are limited.   A study of the Trinity can be a healthy reminder that we don’t fully comprehend all things, which hopefully produces humility.

 

A second truth that we see in the Trinity is this:  God has been eternally fulfilled and he has eternally lived in community.  God lacks nothing yet lives interdependently.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been forever united.  We need to realize that truth about God so we realize this about us:  we don’t need each other because we’re sinful.  We need each other because we are human.  It’s in our nature.  Even before sin entered the world, God knew “it is not good for man to be alone.”   The idea of the “independent man” goes against our very nature.   We are designed to live interdependently.  That is the whole basis of marriage, family, church, and nation.   Humility is realizing that God created me to be interdependent rather than independent.  I am neither self-sufficient nor self-fulfilled.  I must humbly pursue to live interdependently.

 

The third, and I think primary, lesson for us is this:  God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are in all ways equal in their divinity, yet they display submissiveness and humility.  They are equally holy and equally powerful.   There is no distinction between them in value, goodness or love.  Yet this is true:

“though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, (he) did not county equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php. 2: 6-8).

Jesus’ humility has nothing to do with his worth.  Jesus is God!   Yet he humbled himself, taking the form and role of a servant.    True humility is not something that others press into you, and it’s certainly not a feeling of worthlessness within you.  Humility is choosing to honor others ahead of yourself.  Humility is gladly serving and submitting to authority.  And here’s the thing worth wrestling with in your own heart.  Taking the role of a servant does not indicate a lack of significance.   Jesus was submissive to the Father’s will, but he was no less divine.   Role and authority are not the same thing as value and worth.  If the God of the universe exercises authority, and practices submission and humility, we as his family should do the same.

“Therfore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5: 1-2)    

Humble yourself, even as Christ humbled himself to the Father, and love others, even as Christ has loved you.

The Sovereignty of the Savior

Let me ask you some questions: Do you struggle with anxiety, people pleasing, inordinate anger, lust for influence, or hunger to rule? If so: Do you trust in the King of God’s Kingdom or are you trusting in the knockoff kings of your perceived kingdom? Who or what is the lord of your life? Your heart is giving allegiance to someone or something at all times. Is your allegiance in Messiah, who has come from heaven to earth to reconcile you to God?

In John 3, Jesus is clear in his discussion with Nicodemus; Jesus has authority to speak on the necessity of the New Birth because he is the Sovereign of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has absolute rule and ultimate power. Remember, Jesus is God in flesh. This is all true, but the way Jesus goes about ruling his subjects is counterintuitive to the monarchs of this world. Look at John 3:14-15 to see what I mean: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Now, Jesus is referring to a disturbing story out of the book of Numbers in the 21st chapter. Moses was leading the people in the desert after they were brought out of Egypt. This is when God miraculously redeemed the Israelites out of slavery and they were on the way to the promised land. Although God had provided the Israelites with both drink and food while they journeyed, the grew incredibly discontent and irritable. So much so that they spoke against Moses and God, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”

Whats Up with the Fiery Serpents?

Then the LORD sent the snakes, not just any snakes but “fiery serpents.” Maybe some of you have a different translation, where it describes the snakes as “venomous.” This is true as well, but the literal Hebrew here is “fiery serpents.” What is the big deal? Its not that these snakes where on fire, but they set you on fire when they bit you, in a figurative sense. The symptoms were scorching inflamed swelling around the bite that spread. Also, it wouldn’t be long until the victim would have a raging fever and unquenchable thirst. This all added up to what felt like a consuming fire within and eventually you would die. Some of you are thinking, “all of this because some kids in the cafeteria complained about the lunch at school.” On the surface it might come across as an overreaction, but this was the way God chose to show the Israelites what was ultimately killing them, the poison in their souls: the venom from the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.

When God created everything, it was perfect and good. Humanity was in perfect communion with God where he was their father and they were his children. Their was no need for a new birth, because the first birth was not tainted by any sin. But something terrible happened. The Serpent came into the garden and his venom passed into the souls of humanity and since then we have been born with a consuming fire within our souls of deep discontent and dissatisfaction with God. Thus we live with an unquenchable thirst for something to satisfy us and we never find it because apart from deep communion with God, we will be forever discontent, forever irritable and forever grumbling. This is what was wrong at a soul level with the Israelites and the same goes for us. God sent the fiery serpents so they could understand what was really wrong with them and we can learn about us through this story as well. So what happened next?

What the Bronze Serpent Was, I am

The people realized what they had done and they confessed to Moses they sinned against him and God. They asked Moses to ask God to take away the snakes. But God had a better plan. Instead of just taking away the snakes, he provided a way for all those already infected with the poison to be healed. We see here that God knows that forgiveness is not enough for us, we need to be healed of the damage that sin has caused in our lives. So he told Moses to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Really?, make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole? Does this sound a little disturbing to you? Make a huge representation of the very thing that was killing them and by looking to it they would be healed, what is going on here? This would have been disturbing to the Israelites as well, the serpent represented evil and the animal was an unclean animal by the standards in Leviticus. But remember, Jesus connected himself to this story by basically saying, “What the bronze serpent was, I am.”

Paul helps us make sense out of the story of Numbers 21 and how Jesus references himself to it. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul writes: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you see what is happening here? On the cross Jesus does not become sinful, but he becomes sin. We see on the cross a huge legal representation of what it killing us and if we look to him we will not only be forgiven, but we will be healed as well. We see here that there is a great exchange happening on the cross. Jesus, in our place, on our behalf, takes the poison of sin upon himself so we would not ultimate die of it. Although completely righteous, he takes on the punishment of our evil. Although he is spotless, he absorbs the wrath of the unclean who eventually look to him.

Jesus is the Savior King of the Kingdom of God, So Trust Him

All the Israelites had to do to be healed was look at the bronze serpent. Moses did not say that those who could climb the pole at touch the serpent at the top would be healed. This would leave the weak dying and only the strong would live. Moses didn’t tell the people to do anything but look at the bronze serpent. Jesus’ shifts the word “look” to “believe” and the word “live” to “eternal life.” So what does Jesus mean here? He wants us to realize that all the other oppressive rulers of our hearts, the ones we trust more than him are really a sham. He wants us to realize we have been bitten by the Serpent and there is an evil poison within us that is swelling with fire, raging in fever and creating in our souls an unquenchable thirst for everything but God. And the only remedy, the only medicine that will forgive us and heal us his Jesus. This is repentance. Then he wants us to stop trusting in our doing, and start trusting in what he has done for us. This is faith. Based on the story Jesus alludes to in Numbers 21, this is the essence of what he means by “believe”: repentance and faith. Here is the main point of verses 9-15: Jesus is the Savior King of the Kingdom of God, so trust him.

Yet many of us have been truly born again and yet we still continue to sin and we still feel the effects of the Serpent’s poison. Although God has imparted new spiritual life within us, we live in a fallen world and are still people who sin. Until we await the New Heavens and the New Earth as depicted in Revelation 21, where there will be no sin and God will be with us; how do we deal with the Serpent’s poison in the here and now? The same way. Let me ask you some questions: What are you grumbling about? Why are you so discontent? What is the Egypt of your life that you want to return to as if your life will be better? What oppressive slavery do you find yourself running back to? Your chains are gone, the prison cell is unlocked and yet you willingly walk back in and shut the door behind you? God has provided so much sweet manna for you and you want to turn back on him in your complaining and nagging and never-ending grumbling about your situation. You are exchanging the truth for a lie and it is killing you. The Serpent’s poison has entered your system and your situation is on fire, you are flaming hot and are experiencing an unquenchable thirst. Nothing will cure it, you have tried everything. Jesus is saying, all your unbelief and doing will never heal you. You must admit you are poisoned and you must admit the only cure is Jesus. Look to Jesus and he will heal you and continue to heal you. As you believe the gospel more fully and consistently, God puts to death the sin that is killing you. Obviously, we will not reach perfection in this life, but those who are born again will see the results of repentance and faith, which leads to godliness – not the other way around.  Oh, how we should rest in the Sovereignty of the Savior!

What is the Trinity?

Here are some notes I typed up from Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears’ Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe on the Trinity. Obviously much more could be said, but I found these three essential truths very helpful.

What is the Trinity? 

“While the word Trinity does not appear in Scripture, this One-who-is Three concept very clearly does. The word Trinity is used as a shorthand way of explaining a great deal of biblical truth” (p.12).

The Trinity does not mean:

  1. There are three Gods
  2. OR one God manifests himself as either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit on various occasions (Variation of text on p.12).

What are the three biblical truths that are brought together with the doctrine of the Trinity?

  1. There is only one true God.
  2. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally declared throughout Scripture to be God.
  3. There is only one true God, but the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons.

Three equally essential biblical truths:

1. There is only one true God. 

A. Old Testament

Deuteronomy 4:35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.

Psalm 86:8-10 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,

nor are there any works like yours.

All the nations you have made shall come

and worship before you, O Lord,

and shall glorify your name.

For you are great and do wondrous things;

you alone are God.

B. New Testament

Romans 16:27 …to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

James 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

There is only one true God.

2. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally declared throughout Scripture to be God. 

A. The Father is God

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

1 Corinthians 8:6 …yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

B. The Son is God

John 5:17-18 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Romans 9:5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Hebrews 1:8-9 But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

C. The Holy Spirit is God

Isaiah 40:13-13;18 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,

or what man shows him his counsel?

Whom did he consult,

and who made him understand?

Who taught him the path of justice,

and taught him knowledge,

and showed him the way of understanding? . . .

To whom then will you liken God,

or what likeness compare with him?

Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally declared throughout Scripture to be God.

3. There is only one true God, but the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons. 

A. The Father and Son are two persons.

Galatians 1:3-5 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

B. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two persons. 

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

C. The Father and the Holy Spirit are two persons.

Romans 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

There is only one true God, but the Father, Son and Spirit are distinct persons.

Remember, we have been searching for the answer to the question, What is the Trinity?

Trinity Defined:

“The Trinity is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – who are each fully and equally God in relation with each other” (p.13).

T.D. Jakes, Elephant Room & Reformed African American Perspectives

The Elephant in the Room

In less than thirty days Round 2 of the Elephant Room will be simulcast at 70+ locations around North America where many leaders of Christian churches will meet to hear conversations between pastors about the Church who would normally never talk to one another. The Elephant Room website says their goal is:

. . . unity, however a true unity cannot be fashioned in pretense or denial of truth nor can it be won among those who prefer sectarianism to the unity Jesus prayed for. To advance Christ’s call to unity we must do what men have always done, we must push and prod and challenge and sharpen each other’s beliefs and methods.

One belief that has caught much attention in Round 2 is what Christians ought to believe about the Trinity. Why? Well, the leader of the Elephant Room, James McDonald, invited T.D. Jakes to be apart of the discussion in Round 2. T.D. Jakes has been known not to believe what orthodox evangelicals believe about the Trinity (See Thabiti Anyawile’s blog post below for his repost of: “Reviving Old Heresies: Bishop T. D. Jakes and the Oneness Controversy”). Although attention is not necessarily a bad thing, there are many who fear the ramifications of giving T.D. Jakes a platform in relatively orthodox circles.

Two Reformed African American Perspectives

Two Reformed African American pastors, Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter, are especially worried about the effects this will have of the African American church community. They have been laboring to reform African American Christians to Biblical orthodoxy and away from the influence of such teachers like Jakes and his predecessors. Here are Pastor Anyabwile’s concerns voiced on his blog:

This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers.  And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in “our circles” simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church. 

Anthony Carter echoes Pastor Anyabwile’s concern on his blog as well. He highlights another quote from the Elephant Room website that describes what they are trying to create:

What if we created a new ‘tribe?’  A tribe based on being humble enough to listen and reconsider what the Scriptures actually say. A tribe that holds the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity and is open handed with everything else. Maybe, together, we can create a new center?  A place where we are for everything the bible demands and demand nothing that scriptures are silent about.

In response to this quote, Pastor Carter highlights the main controversy as he sees it:

They desire a tribe that “holds the essential tenets of the faith with a ferocious intensity”.  I like that. However, last I checked, the Trinity was an essential tenet of the faith, and unless someone has moved the goal post since I last looked, it still is.  If this is the case it would appear that everyone within the Elephant Room is on board with this doctrine, clearly stated and accepted as historically understood, except one – you guessed it, TD Jakes.

Will the Elephant Win? 

So who is T.D. Jakes going to engage in theological conversation with and what will they discuss? The Elephant Room website displays the discussion will be between Jakes and Mark Driscoll, moderated by Pastor McDonald. Here is a list of the topics they will be discussing:

What are the ‘majors’ of Christian doctrine that cannot be diluted or denied for a person to be a Christian? How can we help one another move beyond the bare minimum of accepted belief, to a pursuit of robust, soul-satisfying, biblical substance? How should we relate to those who do not yet embrace the benefit and priority of sound biblical doctrine? Is there a difference between a person in error and a wolf in sheep’s clothing? What benefits derive from keeping the majors on a separate list and not letting the ‘minors’ divide us? Is it possible to love the truth without compromise and still work passionately for unity?

If you are wondering what Pastor Driscoll is generally thinking about this whole controversy, you can read his clarifying blog post. Here is what he is thinking about the awaited discussion with Jakes in particular:

Regarding Bishop Jakes, my preference is to simply let the man speak for himself and see what he says. As moderator, I assure you, I don’t want to do anything but let the men speak for themselves without being disrespected, set-up, or pushed into an unfair position—and I know this is MacDonald’s stance too. The Bible is clear about loving people and truth telling. Our plan is to have both.

Pastor Carter was really encouraged by Pastor Driscoll’s blog post clarifying a lot on this controversy and plainly stating his stance on the Trinity. Pastor Carter is even confident Pastor Driscoll will engage Jakes in some uncomfortable topics to get him to explain where he stands in respect to the Trinity and why he does so. Yet, Pastor Carter is convinced this will not be enough to make this exchange beneficial:

I can not help but see that the end result would be a win-win for Jakes and a lose-lose for those who have to combat and deal with Jakes’ presence and influence all the time. . . No matter what is said, unless Jakes denounces his previous teachings or is exposed as a false teacher, it’s a win for team Jakes and a loss for those of us left to clean up after the elephant has done his business.

Please join me in praying Pastor Anyabwile’s prayer for Round 2 of the Elephant Room, “Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us both now and forever.  Amen.”

Tolstoy & Dostoevsky: On Genuine and Lasting Change (2 of 2)

Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment are wonderful novels displaying the human condition in all its beauty and complexity. Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky fundamentally describe humanity in different ways, one positive and another negative. This blog series is an attempt at uncovering what the authors were trying to communicate in regards to what is wrong with humanity and what will make it right. Last week we looked at Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and this week we are looking at Dostoevsky’s outlook on humanity in Crime and Punishment.

A Murderer 

Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina differ in many ways. Dostoevsky is focusing in on a poor urban area of St. Petersburg as opposed to the aristocratic quarters of Moscow or the countryside. This setting brings with it a darker look at the effects poverty can have on a society and the psychological stresses it puts on individuals. Crime and Punishment is a murder mystery, but the murderer is not the mystery, the psychological motive of the murderer is the mystery. Although there is a cat and mouse chase between the criminal Raskolnikov and the detective Porfiry, the reader is trying to figure out why Raskolnikov killed his neighborhood pawnbroker and her younger sister. Raskolnikov is an intelligent student who is currently taking a break from the University. Most of his time is spent in his poor apartment, the size of a closet, thinking through what he is about to do and then after the act, why he has done it. Raskolnikov has this theory that there are two types of people, the ordinary and the extraordinary. The ordinary are those who follow the customs and laws of the present in a citizen like fashion. The extraordinary are the few in history that lead the masses out of an old way of doing things into a new way. If the extraordinary way involves people dying, so be it, the future state of humanity will be better for it. Raskolnikov used Napoleon as an example of one who is extraordinary, forgetting armies in Egypt and taking thousands of lives in the name of human progress. Raskolnikov sees himself as a Napoleon type, an extraordinary human. His target is a pawnbroker who rips off poor people to the advancement of her wealth. He hopes to take the cash and goods from this pawnbroker and give them to the poor. Raskolnikov kills the pawn broker and is forced to kill her younger sister as well because she showed up at the wrong time. Its as if the younger sister is just a casualty of war, the cost of doing justice to the neighborhood. Joseph Frank comments on Raskolnikov while he is in this state of mind: “It is not only that his ideas run counter to the instinctive promptings of his moral-emotive sensibility; these ideas momentarily transform him into someone for whom moral conscience ceases to operate as part of his personality” (Frank, 489).

As the novel unfolds, clearly Raskolnikov did not murder the pawnbroker as a twisted way to execute social justice. He killed her because of his ego. Frank goes on to explain, “…he killed not for the altruistic-humanitarian motives he believed he was acting upon but solely because of a purely selfish need to test his own strength” (485). Raskolnikov comes to this awareness and is horrified by it. The reader is thrown through an emotional seesaw by seeing the dichotomy of Raskolnikov’s character. On the one hand he gives away money to the poorest of the poor so they can live and on the other hand, he takes the life of the rich in his neighborhood so his ego can live. There is this back and forth of what seems to be selflessness and selfishness, but even the small flickers of selflessness are shown to be a sham by Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky shows us a man who is beyond repair, even his best actions are as filthy rags compared to genuine goodness. But, there is Sonya!

A Harlot 

Sonya is the daughter of a drunk unemployed man with a large family. The children are starving and her father is not a good provider. There seems to be no immediate work for Sonya outside of prostitution and by sacrificing herself, her father continues to drink and her family is fed. Sonya is a complete outsider and one of her only friends was the pawnbroker’s daughter. She is sad over the lost of her friend and humiliated by her desperate situation. Raskolnikov comes to know her father and ends up being there at their home when Sonya’s father dies of an accident related to his drunkenness. Raskolnikov is aware of Sonya’s occupation and later comes to her because he feels like he cannot confide in anyone else. There they are in Sonya’s room, harlot and murderer, and Raskolnikov wants to know how she has the power to continually give sacrificially of herself so others can flourish? A Christian, Sonya shares her faith through the personalized reading of Lazarus’ revivification in the gospel account. This affected Raskolnikov and would eventually help lead him to repentance. Through a series of events, Raskolnikov finds himself back at the room of Sonya and she challenges Raskolnikov to repent and to embrace suffering. He has no other options outside taking his life and being a fugitive, neither are reasonable in light of what he has done and what Sonya has offered him. He has transgressed the law and is not above it, and yet someone close to him who owes him contrary to what he receives sticks with him through it all. He is an ordinary man and will only find resurrection through the unmerited love and affection of another. It is this type of grace Raskolnikov experiences from Sonya. She should have avenged her friend’s death and yet she entered Raskolnikov’s suffering, even by following him all the way to Siberia where he was imprisoned and eventually converted. Writing on this, Ernest Gordan wrote:

“By her faith the power of Grace that brought Lazarus from the corruption of the grave is repeated in the experience of Raskolnikov. He has the assurance that by this Grace he will be forgiven at the Last Judgment. He is thus liberated from the bondage of sin, guilt, and fear (Ernest Gordon, xiii).

Dostoevsky’s Outlook on Humanity 

Dostoevsky’s outlook on humanity is negative, there is nothing in humanity that will enable humans to fix themselves of the curse of sin. Tolstoy’s view of humanity, which was: Humans are able to correct their morality to the degree they align to proper belief structures contrasts Dostoevsky’s view of humanity: The inability to correct human morality outside a human’s experience of monumental grace. What makes Sonya’s grace monumental, is how she differs from Raskolnikov. Frank explains their difference well:

On the one side, there is the ethic of Christian agape, the total, immediate, and unconditional sacrifice of self that is the law of Sonya’s being (and Dostoevsky’s own highest value); on the other, there is Raskolnikov’s rational Utilitarian ethic, which justifies the sacrifice of others for the sake of the greater social good (Frank, 501-502).

What the reader finds in Sonya is a woman who continually thinks outside of herself to meet the needs of others. This was Dostoevsky’s highest value of humanity, and it only came through the experience of monumental grace. Sonya could only offer it to Raskolnikov because she had experienced it in a personal way through Christ. Christ did not abandon her in her suffering, he called her to repentance and then went with her in her suffering all the way to her furthest inner prison. It is this Grace that enabled Sonya to love Raskolnikov as she had been loved, not based on what was deserved, but loving contra-conditionally. Karl Notzel wrote in a German edition of The Gospel in Dostoevsky: Selections from His Works  “In his last great masterpieces Dostoyevsky shows the wounded soul the way to healing, which is to be unavenging. Such a person is thereby immediately immune to attack –– to the helpless amazement of all” (Notzel,192). Sonya is amazing to the reader, and it is her amazement that enables Roskolnikov to repent and embrace suffering for evil deeds. The amount of suffering was no longer crushing in light of the experience of grace, Dostoevsky writes:

But she was so happy that she almost became frightened of her happiness. Seven years, only seven years! At the beginning of their happiness there were moments when they were both ready to look at those seven years as if they were seven days (Dostoevsky, 550-551).

Tolstoy & Dostoevsky

In conclusion, Tolstoy has a positive outlook on humanity in the sense that whatever moral ills humans have, it is not beyond the individual to make itself well. This differs dramatically from Dostoevsky negative outlook on humanity. He views humanity as totally unable to heal itself, there must be an outside force applying pressure. The type of pressure that leaves genuine and lasting change is grace. Grace is defined as receiving contrary to what one deserves. The fundamental difference between the authors is articulated well by Mathews-Green when she writes, “Life is not sugar-coated in Tolstoy’s works; terrible things take place. But it can be argued that he lacks the profound understanding of evil that makes Dostoevsky’s work so powerful” (Mathews-Green, p. 580). Both Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment are powerful, they both offer a way of living that will be more beneficial than if they were not read at all. Yet, I think a hybrid of the two views of humanity would be appropriate for living. To be humble enough to know that true and lasting change will not happen in life apart from experiencing monumental acts of grace; and then to be sober enough to realize that happiness will not come in the realization of inordinate desires, but in a soul that is oriented on God and not on self.

Works Cited in Both Post

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Notzel, Karl; Muggeridge, Malcolm; Paker, J.I. Paker. Gordon, James. The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works. Rifton: The Plough Publishing House, 2011.

Reynolds, John Mark. The Great Books Reader: Excerpts And Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2011.

Mathews-Green, Frederica “On Anna Karenina”  (From The Great Books Reader)

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. New York: Penguin Group, 2000.

Yancey, Philip. “Be Ye Perfect, More or Less: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and the impossible Sermon on the Mount.” Christianity Today: July 17, 1975.

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