Saturday, July 04, 2009

God Sees the Truth, But Waits

I read a short story by Leo Tolstoy called "God Sees the Truth, But Waits." Ghastly, just ghastly.
I will tell the entire plot. If you want to read it unspoiled, stop reading NOW.
You've been warned.
Ivan Dmitrich Aksyonov decides to travel to Nizhny Fair. His wife begs him not to go because she had a bad dream about this trip. He laughs her off and leaves anyway. Halfway to the Fair he stops overnight at an inn. He is awakened the next morning by the police because there has been a murder at the inn that night and he is a prime suspect. He is not worried as they search his things because he knows he did not not commit the murder. The police find a bloody knife in his bag.
Aksyonov protests that he is innocent, but no one believes him, not even his wife. Aksyonov is condemned to flogging with a knout and life imprisonment in the mines in Siberia.
After 26 years in Siberia Aksyonov's hair is white and his happy spirit is broken. He prays to God a lot and the other prisoners respect him.
A new prisoner, Makar Semyonovich, who comes from Aksyonov's hometown, arrives. After some discussion, Aksyonov suspects that Semyonovich is the real murderer. He finds Semyonovich digging a hole to escape in the night. The next day the authorities ask Akyonov who dug the hole. Aksyonov says he does not know.
That night Semyonovich falls to his knees before Aksyonov and confesses that he committed the murder 26 years ago and hid the knife in Aksyonov's bag. He begs for forgiveness and weeps as only guilty Russians can.
The last three paragraphs I must transcribe completely for them to be believed:
When Aksyonov heard him sobbing he too began to weep.
"God will forgive you!" he said. "Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you." And at these words his heart suddenly grew light and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.
In spite of what Aksyonov had said, Makar Semyonovich confessed his guilt. But when the order for his release came, Aksyonov was already dead.
Now, that's a Christian short story -- real, medieval Augustinian Christianity, not the watered down American stuff. Justice on earth is meaningless because God knows who is guilty and innocent. We humans should turn the other cheek and leave justice to God in the afterlife.
Tolstoy dramatizes his theme perfectly. It is a powerful story. But what a theme! Tolstoy's is not a philosophy for living on earth, but a philosophy of self-abnegation and renunciation of values and happiness. In every fundamental respect Leo Tolstoy and Ayn Rand are opposites, despite their both being brilliant writers of long novels who were born in Russia.

6 comments:

Elizabeth A. said...

I just found the short story on-line. I'll be glad to read it, especially as... per your description and the quotes provided here - it seems somewhat reminiscent of self examination and thoughtful exploration about God, life after death, purpose of life, etc... that Levin examines in Tolstoy's, "Anna Karenina".
Elizabeth

Mike said...

Yikes. No life to be had there. Lately I'm seeing that kind of thrust in a lot of things I read. Perhaps some common influence upon authors in particular is pertinent to this. Obviously it does not apply to all authors, as is evidenced by Rand. But I say authors and not just "people in general" because I doubt the average person contemplates such dread scenarios in such vivid detail on a regular basis.

Northern Rain Studio said...

Actually, it is a philosophy for living on earth, since there are many many people who experience lifelong suffering and injustice. No wheel of fortune for them.

Anonymous said...

From my perspective, this is a classic Russian Orthodox fatalism/redemption story. If you've read any Dostoevsky, this one is basically Crime and Punishment with an actual innocent man who still must be saved. Same epiphany in Siberia at the end anyway.

The sick part is I loved it. But then again, I love 3 hour long Russian Orthodox Church services, so there you go.

Anonymous said...

what are the theme of this story

Myrhaf said...

Anonymous, from the traffic I gather this story has been assigned in some Filipino school. I don't know if my opinionated post is the best guide for students about this story. To find the theme, I would advise you to read the story and think of what it says to you. What abstract idea do the events seem to be saying?