Last week I began a book that I have been wanting to read for a long time: namely, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I had to go through an adjustment period, but by the time I finished the first part of the novel, this period of adjustment was over. I am now done with the first part, and I wish to reflect upon the novel so far before I continue reading.
All that Dostoevsky talks about (through his characters), at first, seemed lofty and philosophical. Common conversations between characters include the following: the problem of suffering, faith and doubt, the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the fall of man and human depravity, etc… In the beginning, this threw me off. However, I am now impressed with how Dostoevsky talks about these things. It is actually very plausible that his characters discuss these serious issues given the relationships his characters have in the novel. Alyosha (Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov), the main character, lives in a monastery. His father is a sensualistic money grubber. One brother is another sensualist, and the other is an atheist. This incites many deep conversations including the topics I mentioned. There are also trips and situations with elders and priests, as well as with prostitutes.
There are many specific situations, conversations, scenes, images, etc… that I could point out. I will mention only two, however.
First, I want to look at a mention of the term “happiness.” Zosima, an elder at the monastery, is the one who discusses happiness briefly. Zosima is a sort of mentor for Alyosha. Zosima is speaking to a woman whose daughter he has healed (the daughter’s health is still in question since her condition has merely improved). The mother’s name is Madam Khoklakhov, and the daughter’s name is Lise.
“For people are created for happiness, and he who is completely happy can at once be deemed worthy of saying to himself: ‘I have fulfilled God’s commandment on this earth.'” (p. 55)
So, what is happiness? Well, no specifics have been put forth explicitly by Zosima. He is an elder at a monastery, so it might be helpful to look at the creation of man in Genesis to try and understand Zosima’s worldview. I want to look at all of Genesis 1-2, but to be concise, I will quote only a few verses.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man[h] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28 ESV)
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for[e] him.” (Gen. 2: 18)
Man is created in the image of God (Imago Dei). God is triune, He is in relationship: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Genesis 1 does not tell us that God needed his creation to be whole. Rather, it is out of this perfectly loving relationship of the trinity that creation happens. Love cannot help but create. And man was created in God’s image. Man was intended to live in relationship, he was intended to love. That is man’s purpose: to love. This is why I quoted Genesis 2:18 as well. To love – to do as God intended us – is to be happy. (The cultural mandate to be fruitful and multiply is one way that man can fulfill this call to be God’s image bearers on earth.)
In this quote, Zosima invokes the creation of man, but more specifically the purpose of man: why was man created? I would argue that Genesis, and the elder Zosima, say (even if implicitly) that man was created to love. Zosima says that man was created to be happy. Yes. I would argue that Zosima’s concept of happiness is directly rooted in the command to love in Genesis, and in the rest of Scripture. Happiness is the freedom and ability to love.
This actually leads to the second quote I wish to point out.
“Never be frightened at your own faintheartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts. I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment – I predict this to you – you will suddenly reach your goal and will clearly behold over you the wonder-working power of the Lord, who all the while has been loving you, and all the while has been mysteriously guiding you.” (p. 58, Zosima to Madame Khoklakhov)
The “goal” that Zosima discusses is to be happy, and, thus, to love. God’s commandment for us is happiness, and to be happy means to love. Happiness is the freedom and ability to love (I argue this based on Genesis 1 and 2 with the creation of man in God’s trinitarian image, and God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply, a commandment to love and perpetuate love). And, in this second quote, Zosima defines the nature of this love – this active love.