Monday, March 20, 2017

What Dostoevsky Can Teach Us About the Suffering Church

Feodor Dostoevsky is the author of one of the most profound dialogues about sin and evil in his book The Brothers Karamazov that reflected on his unrest over injustice. Reading the book, one begins to understand that it was not God, who Dostoevsky had a problem with, but evil and disingenuous Christians. Elissa Kiskaddon claims that Dostoevsky’s disappointment with God was not only “confined to religious persons, but extended to the entity of the church itself and its excesses.” Walter Wink's concern is that the condition of the Church is far from ideal. “These churches are riven by strife, factionalism, backbiting, and heresy. As human communities, they have little to commend them."[1]
The recent resignation of Bishop Robert William Finn in Kansas City after he was convicted of failing to report child abuse in his Diocese left many Kansas City-area Catholics to feel betrayed. Susie Evans, a lifelong Catholic, shares, “I find it unacceptable to embrace something I don’t agree with. I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted. People have to stand up and say what’s right, and what’s wrong. And that wasn’t happening.” Child abuse is inhumane and should be considered one of the worst evils. Dostoevsky names children's suffering as the most irrational and unjust sin and struggles to reconcile it through Ivan and Alesha’s dialogue in the attempt to reconcile such abuse with the loving God. This example serves as a good illustration of Dostoevsky’s view of the human heart as the battlefield between good and evil.[3] Dostoevsky’s frustration was caused not only by his observation of evil in the world but by immorality and incivility done in and by the church.
Pastors respond to their calling with pure hearts but gradually end under double pressure from their congregations and their denominations. This is when pastors' personal “inner demons” get exacerbated by “church-growth pressure," local church politics, performance reviews, family expectations, and isolation. When it comes to pastors, their spiritual health suffers from pride, envy, greed, anger, and unhealthy ambitions. Bishop Robert Schnase describes in his book Ambition in Ministry, calling them  as “ardent desires and deadly appetites.”[4] Wink calls them “inner personal demonic” tendencies for evil. 
In his letter to N. L. Ozmidov, Dostoevsky writes: “Now assume there is no God or immortality of the soul. Now tell me, why I should live righteously and do good deeds if I am to die entirely on earth.” 
What will be your answer to Dostoevsky's question?



[1] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 72.
[2] Dostoyevsky, Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Ed. Frank and Goldstein. U.S.A.: Rutgers University, 1987. 446.
[3] Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. III, 3.
[4] Schnase, Robert. Ambition in Ministry: Our Spiritual Struggle with Success, Achievement & Competition. Abingdon Press, 1993, 42.
[5] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 53.

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