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Soul Survivor: Tolstoy – The Futile Idealist (or not?)

Monday, May 15, 2006

  I love Tolstoy's writings, so much so that I even taught some of his work to my grade 10 English class one year. They didn't exactly fall for his writings as I did though, but that may be because I chose "The Death of Ivan Ilich" as our short story. I was and am convinced though, that even if they didn't exactly take to it then, they will remember the story one day, or come across it again, and the seed of truth contained in his words will have already been planted, and have germinated, and maybe one of them have been spared from a life of misery in the pursuit of position and wealth.

My first impressions on reading Yancey's account of Tolstoy in "Soul Survivor" is that the ideals that Tolstoy held up must have been illusion. If he pursued the establishing of God's Kingdom in his life, but failed miserably, as Yancey says, then he was nothing more than another deluded individual dreaming and thinking about an ethereal heaven that can never be attained. So what if his writngs were brilliant – it was fantasy, and nothing more, dreams of beauty that don't exist. If it is true, than it should be able to be seen, even in a small amount.

He sought perfectionism, but contracted veneral disease "several times". He gave away his writing as "art" while his family ate "black bread" according to his wife Sonya. He became ascetic in almost everything he did, yet he couldn't love his wife properly, and caused her "constant pain" (p.124-126) According to her own account, she saw him profess love for all humanity equally, but not lift a finger to help her, or give her a rest, or give his own child a drink of water.

But, "A man willing to liberate his serfs and give away his possessions in simple obedience to Jesus' command is not easy to dismiss." And I wholeheartedly agree. Maybe Tolstoy was more like a man who sees a light a far off, and sacrifices everythgin he has t oget closer, only to find that the way is much harder than he ever imagined. He was not mad, though many thougt so, becsue he was well aware of his own shortcomings. He knew how miserably he failed to live up to his own ideals. And then he said what I believe to be unfathomably true – that the difference between Christianity and all other religions is that the Christian does not try to live up to some outerward set of rules and conditions. He is simply acutely aware of how far he deviates from ideal perfection, and that nothing he does will ever get him there. (p.129)

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