Theology for the Masses

November 15, 2006

Dostoyevsky Rebellion: Christians and the problem of Evil

Filed under: Nature of God,Problem of Evil — Henry Imler @ 11:36 pm

In The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, Rebellion is right before the famous chapter, The Grand Inquisitor. It is the atheist brother, Ivan, who knows too much about religion to believe in God; berating Aloysha, the priest. Ivan’s main problem is,

“All I know is that there is suffering and none are guilty”

He goes on to say,

I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote, infinite time and space, but here on earth so I can see it myself….
All the religions of the world are built on this longing and I am a believer…”

He collects stories about the terrible suffering of the most innocent, children. Their sufferings undeniably showcase the injustice of this world. He then gives them to Aloysha and asks them how his God can allow these things to pass.

I have been pondering his charge all week. Consider the following poem:

The Carpenter’s Silent Hammer

The good suffer and the evil go free;
It is as such, as far as the eye can see. This problem is seen in the child’s hand,
When, for her mistakes, is struck by the band.

It rears again, in men, who by deed are able
Beat to death a poor boy locked in a stable

Christians, they see and sayest thus:
Oh Lord you are wise and your ways are Just!

But for myself, I sit in the corner and weep,
for the child can say no longer a peep.

Where is the Justice of God the Strong?
Why does He not right all of the wrong?

In time, in time” says the monk passing by.
Laid in my hand, my head does cry.

I cry for the souls pillaged and lost.
I cry for those killed by the frost.

Why does the Carpenter’s hammer go silent?
Why does it allow all that is violent?

How on earth can God let this be?
Perhaps God’s answer lies within me.

All the assistance in the world, is His to give;
But the duty to perform, is ours to live.

After thinking on this some more, it seems that to answer the problem of pain we must not look to God, but to ourselves. God has allowed the potential of evil to exist for the sake of our existence. A life without choice is a life expressed methodically by constants and equations, with the outcomes as predicable as such. Without choice there is no awareness, no humanity, no love, no hate. As the Satan expresses in The Devil a chapter in Brother’s where Ivan is hallucinating and sees visions of the fallen angel:

If everything was sensible, nothing would happen.

God allows us to choose good over evil, and thus gives us real life. We should honor God for giving us the greatest gift ever given, even greater than the gift of grace itself. For without choice, there would be no chance to receive grace. God must remain a hidden God, for otherwise there would be no choice to be made. Allegiance confessed under the blade is a lie told to save the skin.

If we truly make that choice, good over evil, when we see the other side of the coin we should not ask God why he permits it here on earth; we know that. In the stead of that weakness, we should ask out selves why we allow it to persist.

God has given us many great abilities besides that of choice. We should employ them to so that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

That is the best answer that I can put forth for the problem of pain and suffering here on earth. The answer places the blame on myself for allowing it.



  1. I think your response is perfectly in line with Dostoevsky’s own response to Ivan’s formulation of the problem, espoused by Father Zossima. Ivan believes that because of the injustice present in the world, the only right thing to do is to “return his ticket”, i.e. commit suicide. Yet, Father Zossima says that this only makes things worse as we must take matters into our own hands and actually help things by performing good actions. This I certainly agree with — it is up to us to change things.

    However, the question that I have never seen an adequate response to is this (Ivan’s ‘challenge’ to Alyosha): “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that baby beating his breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?”

    This situation is the exact scenario theists are forced to face up to. If God truly is omnipotent and omniscient, and he created our world as we know it, then there is only one possibility. He created the world with the knowledge that all those innocent children would suffer, something that Ivan, and myself, could not accept. Therefore he cannot be all-good. If however, one wishes to claim that this suffering exists only because of our own free will and that God did not know of the suffering when he created the world, then one would have to sacrifice God’s omniscience and thus his omnipotence.

    The key point in the argument is the suffering of children. Ask yourself, if you were in God’s position creating the world, and you could make the world perfect, where everyone was happy, but to do so you had to torture just one child, one innocent child like those portrayed in the “Rebellion” chapter, could you do it?

    Comment by Steven — February 1, 2007 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  2. In response to Steven’s question. I could not, I would not. As far as my human understanding takes me, It is unfair, and unjust to allow an innocent to suffer. Or even to allow another to cause the suffering of an innocent. I am with you Steven. It is beyond my ability to comprehend the justification of creating such a world.

    I must accept that there are subjects which I am incapable of having complete knowledge of. God’s complete understanding and complete goodness must be able to account for such suffering in a way that is good, though it is far beyond my understanding.

    The question I think that is more important is “Do I have enough faith in the goodness of God to trust Him on this matter?”

    Comment by Ben Priest — October 26, 2008 @ 1:45 am | Reply

  3. Alyosha’s Answer to Ivan is a Kiss. And that may be Dostoevsky’s portrayal of God’s answer as well. God loves, and his answer to the one who cries out in anguish to the one who groans too deeply for words is not an appeal to intellect, nor a logically constructed answer. The answer is love. We as humans are dependent on the love and affection of others, and maybe that dependency is what keeps us from being able to fully understand the problem of evil. Just a thought… but Zossima states that we are to love all, and we are to judge no-one, but to think of ourselves as the ones most deserving of the crimes commited, really just another affirmation of this point?

    Zossima’s answer is that what Ivan says in the chapter rebellion is correct: All we can do is look at the evil done all over the world and feel the weight of that evil on our shoulders. Yet there is one more step to this: it doesn’t end with this despair! Thank God it does not! It ends with us asking for mercy on behalf of the world. We ask God for a kiss, not an answer. We ask God for Love, not a treatise.

    Comment by Darren — March 15, 2010 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

  4. Wow, I used bad grammar. Please forgive me and look past the mistakes to see the Idea behind it.

    Comment by Darren — March 15, 2010 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  5. Good biblical answers above although they are not easy answers. The price of removing suffering would be to remove choice and make us robots with the result that there would be no love or goodness. Accepting the biblical answer means that even “natural disasters” are the result of a fallen creation which is due to original sin, i.e. Adam’s choice. I’d just add that the world represented by Ivan has no better answer. It isn’t better to “return the ticket.” That does nothing to alleviate sin and suffering in this world. Every life snuffed out has generational consequences.

    Comment by Larry McFall — July 21, 2010 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  6. I’m just curious to who wrote the poem in this article. Is this an original composition, or is it from another author? Or is this somewhere in the Brothers Karamazov, but I missed it?

    Comment by Nathan — November 22, 2010 @ 1:20 am | Reply

  7. “return the ticket” does NOT mean suicide–it means to return one’s “ticket” to heaven, or reject God’s offer of paradise because children must suffer, which means the “price is too high”

    Comment by Remoose — December 14, 2011 @ 5:12 pm | Reply

  8. Return the ticket. Ritualistic child-abuse, torture and murder. That’s enough to condemn God for ever. Either his is impotent or indifferent to the hideous suffering of innocents, or he is a first-class bastard.

    Comment by John Laskey — April 10, 2013 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  9. sorry that should read – “either he is impotent….”

    Comment by John Laskey — April 10, 2013 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  10. Oh yeah, one other option: or he doesn’t exist.

    Comment by John Laskey — April 10, 2013 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  11. Rather he is or not or regardless of where we come from or go… It is us here in this world who are capable and participate in evil.. While some get pleasure, some avoid discomfort with blindness, Either way it is us who should be in question and question our brothers both in our acts, our hearts/ it’s tolerance and our methods which we react to existence in evil… all of this is our own responsibility it is how we tend to our soul. may it be a work of salvation in itself.

    Comment by michelle — February 21, 2018 @ 1:43 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: