They sat side by side, both mournful and dejected, as though they had been cast up by the tempest alone on some deserted shore. He looked at Sonia and felt how great was her love for him, and strange to say he felt it suddenly burdensome and painful to be loved
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment is all about a man who refuses to accept love. No wonder it has spoken to so many of us throughout the generations.
The main character is a university dropout in St. Petersburg (the bleak, bitterly cold St. Pete’s) who has fallen into a deep, deep depression. In his first years as a student he had excelled in both studies as well as extra-curricular activities. He tutored for money and made enough to eke out a bit of a living, with a little help from his mother here an there. Raskolnikov was the type of guy you wanted hanging around. He was a champion of the underdog, he had saved children from a burning building, he had used his money to pay for complete strangers’ funerals and he was a brilliant student. He was the type of guy you would want your daughter to bring home.
But there was another side to Raskolnikov that was much darker than even the Russian winter. His father had died while he was around high school age, and he suddenly became the hope of his mother and sister. Everything depended on their dear son and brother. His success would be the success of the family and his failure would mean disgrace- but who could expect him to fail?
Somewhere along the way, Raskolnikov did fail. He fell into depression. He closed himself in his room. He stopped giving lessons, which means he stopped getting paid. Like many of us, when the money ran out, he was forced to quit school, although he was an exceptional student. Everything in his life had stopped. He shut himself up in his room and lay on his sofa with the lights out all day. His mind wandered. His thoughts turned inward. What is that old saying about “idle hands being the devil’s playthings?”
This is a story about Raskolnikov losing faith in God, people, himself, and ultimately, life itself. As you might expect, there is a crime committed and there is punishment in this story but it is about so much more than what Raskolnikov did. This is a story about a man, like so many of us, who finds it burdensome and painful to be loved.
We can all identify with this feeling. We want to love and be loved but we must surrender more than we had planned. Love is about more than words. It is more than actions. It is more than feelings. Love is being known.
And that is why Dostoyevsky still speaks to us down through the years. He knew what it meant to resist being known with every fiber of his being- and he was honest about it. As you read Crime and Punishment, be honest with yourself. Is it ever a burden to be loved? Is it ever painful to be loved? Is it not so much easier to write everybody off and close off yourself to the world?
But the story is about more than Raskolnikov- much to his own dismay! Sonia, a young prostitute, loves the man- really and truly loves him. She is safe for him. She weeps for his selfishness. She takes on his burden. She points him to the resurrection life that is in Jesus.
This is a story about death and it is a story about resurrection. We do not get love without struggle. We do not get life without pain. We do not get resurrection without death.
The stunning thing about this story is the thing that stuns me over and over again about life. Love makes us new. Redemption is our re-creation. There is life available if we let ourselves be known by God and by one another. I have seen it happen. I have felt it happen.
In the end, even Raskolnikov cannot resist the persistent love of Sonia. He cannot resist the persistent love of Christ through her. And neither can you.
Do you want resurrection? Die to your pride. His love is persistent for you.