My roommate is reading about the 1995 Bosnian genocide for her Public Policy class, and it’s echoing a feeling I’ve had many times. I realized that it’s often easier to ignore the heartbreaking things I see and read about than to grow helplessly angry. But there is another response that I am learning.
Before Web surfing and my laptop, I read many good books in their entirety. I picked up Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov when I was fifteen and labored through it for the challenge. I didn’t understand everything at that age, but there were certain passages that I knew had deep theological significance.
Now, obligated to revisit the book for a literature elective, I’m filled with awe at the author’s genius and pathos. In one wrenching scene, Karamazov explains to his brother Alyosha the moral outrage that made him lose his faith in God.
Ivan recounts, in brutal detail, stories he has collected about evil done to the innocent: babies murdered by Turkish soldiers while their mothers are forced to watch, children who are starved, tortured and beaten at their parents’ whims, and a young boy ordered to be torn apart by hounds for accidentally throwing a rock that hit a nobleman’s dog.
In the middle of his tale, Ivan turns to his tender-hearted brother Alyosha.
“It seems I’m hurting you, Alyosha my boy. You don’t look very well. I won’t go on if you don’t want me to.”
‘Never mind. I want to suffer, too, Alyosha mumbled.”
I’d challenge anyone to read the passage and not share Ivan’s outrage. Ivan is not speaking of trivial things here; he is speaking of the unthinkable happening to the innocent. If there was ever a reason to deny God’s existence or hate Him, this must be it.
Alyosha, too, shares Ivan’s anger. Yet his response is so far different. He grieves at the stories of cruelty and injustice and wants to suffer alongside the children. He has the heart of God.
Though I cannot understand why God permits such ugliness and evil to happen in his “very good” world, I’m convinced that my response to these things has been wrong. Rather than trying to rise above pain and grief, I should seek to grieve along with those who suffer.