The Brothers Karamazov

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Father Zosima’s Answer to Ivan’s Rebellion

Alyosha writes:


The more I think about the final words of Father Zosima, the more clearly I come to see how his teachings anticipate the arguments of my tormented brother, Ivan.  Ivan rebels against God’s world, returning his ticket, because that world is built on suffering.  When we had our conversation at the Inn, I could not answer his accusations against God.  But in Zosima’s final words I heard the answer to Ivan’s argument. It was an answer I should have been able to give, for it was with me, even then, in my Bible.  God gave us his example of the transcendent power of suffering in the story of Job.


The elder defends the story of Job against skeptics, saying:  “Later, I heard the words of scoffers and blasphemers, proud words:  how could the Lord hand over the most beloved of his saints for Satan to play with him, to take away his children, to smite him with disease and sores so that he scraped the pus from his wounds…And for what?  Only as to boast before Satan:  ‘See what my saint can suffer for my sake!’  But what is great here is this very mystery – that the passing earthly image and eternal truth here touched each other.  In the face of the earthly truth, the enacting of eternal truth is accomplished. Here the Creator, as in the first days of creation, crowning each day with praise:  ‘That which I have created is good,’ looks at Job and again praises his creation.  And Job, praising God, does not only serve him, but will also serve his whole creation…God restores Job, gives him wealth anew…and he has children, different ones, and he loves them…” (291-292).


What the skeptics fail to see is that “grief, by a great mystery of human life, gradually passes into quiet, tender joy.”   With sorrow comes the ability to “bless the sun’s rising each day…and love its setting even more…and [to see that] over all is God’s truth, moving, reconciling, all-forgiving…” Does this not answer my brother Ivan’s rebellion?

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