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C H A P T E R F I V E “CAN THIS BE FAITH?” Tolstoy’s Resurrection If I exist,there must be some cause for it,and a cause of causes.And that first cause of all is what men have called “God.” And I paused on that thought, and tried with all my being to recognize the presence of that cause.And as soon as I acknowledged that there is a force in whose power I am, I at once felt that I could live. But I asked myself: What is that cause, that force? Tolstoy,“A Confession” Tolstoy’s Apophatic God The theme of love of enemies as the measure of divine love in his two great novels marks an important moment for Tolstoy,who made of this and four other equally paradoxical commandments from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount the centerpiece of his new faith. Like love of enemies, each of these moral precepts sets standards of behavior that are seemingly impossible to meet. In his sermon, Christ equates lust with adultery, anger with murder, oath-taking with lying, and resisting evil with abetting it,all in an attempt to teach human beings about the nature of divine love. For Tolstoy, there was no greater revelation of what divine love must be than these teachings. But like his fictional characters, he came to this realization about the nature of divine love and faith only gradually and with difficulty. When Konstantin Levin gropes his way to belief at the conclusion of Anna Karenina, he asks the question Tolstoy himself asked while writing the novel: 103 “Can This Be Faith? “Can this be faith?” (8:13:800). The question is not entirely a rhetorical one, for what Levin has discovered is less a belief in God per se and more the conviction that the “sole purpose” of humankind is “serving the good instead of one’s needs” (8:13:799). For Levin, however, this is as close to belief in God as he gets. By novel’s end, Levin acknowledges two things: that this feeling—“faith or not faith—I don’t know what it is” (8:19:817)—has changed his life and that, try as he might, he cannot “express this knowledge by means of reason and words” (8:19:816). A few years later, Tolstoy will come to similar conclusions in his Confession (1879). Tolstoy, too, was “seeking a faith,” but he also understood that he could not seek “the explanation of everything.” He writes: “I know that the explanation of everything, like the commencement of everything, must be concealed in infinity. But I wish to understand in a way which will bring me to what is inevitably inexplicable. I wish to recognize anything that is inexplicable as being so not because the demands of my reason are wrong (they are right, and apart from them I can understand nothing), but because I recognize the limits of my intellect.”1 In speaking of the “inevitably inexplicable” and the “limits of [the] intellect” in his search for God, Tolstoy was acknowledging that God, if God exists, must be beyond the limits of human comprehension and the ability of Tolstoy’s native Christian profession to explain. In fact, traditional Christian concepts of God interfere with our proper understanding of divine reality. For Tolstoy, the idea of God as a separate entity who created the universe and to whom one may pray already limited the limitless deity in a way that violated his reason, even as he acknowledged that reason alone is inadequate in understanding God.“A God of whom one can ask things and whom it is possible to serve is an expression of weakness of mind,” Tolstoy wrote in his diary in 1860.“He is God precisely because I can’t imagine to myself His whole being.”2 Tolstoy thus charts a course away from his native Orthodox Christian faith and yet, at the same time, employs language and assumes a theological position that strongly evokes apophaticism, the via negativa that refuses to form concepts about God, since conceptualization diminishes the divinity. This apophatic God is Tolstoy’s God. It is the same God who haunted and eluded Prince Andrei, the“indefinable, unfathomable power” that one“not only cannot address,” but “cannot express in words” (1:3:19:293). It is the panentheistic God (God is in everything but is not limited to everything3 ) Pierre apprehends in captivity “not through words, not arguments, but...


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