Furnace of Doubt

Furnace of Doubt

“I believe in Christ and confess Him not like some child; my hosanna has passed through an enormous furnace of doubt.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky as young manOrphaned at age seventeen, Dostoevsky had his whole life before him. Though he graduated from a military engineering school, honoring his father’s wishes, he did not want to be an engineer. With a small income from his father’s estate, Dostoevsky devoted himself to writing and achieved instant notoriety with the publication of his first novel, Poor Folk. That success gave him access to intellectual and literary circles in St. Petersburg, where he became involved in the sociopolitical issues of the day.

Now watch as God dramatically intervened in his circumstances…

Dostoevsky joined the Petrashevsky Circle, a utopian socialist group that secretly published propaganda against the Russian Tsar. In April 1849, he and others were arrested for sedition and sentenced to death. While he waited in prison for his execution, a small group of women brought him a New Testament. As he pored over the Gospel accounts, a profound shift occurred in his understanding of life.

Dostoevsky mock executionBut after eight long months in prison, execution day came in late December. Blindfolded and stripped, the first three prisoners were tied to stakes. Dostoevsky stood with the next group of three, waiting. A firing squad took aim. At the very last moment,Continue reading

A Window Into Childhood

A Window Into Childhood

“One spring evening at Moscow the door of the drawing room where all the family was assembled was thrown open, and the bailiff of the Darovoye estate appeared on the threshold. ‘The domain has been burnt,’ he announced in a tragic voice. At the first moment, my grandparents believed that they were entirely ruined; but instead of lamenting, they knelt down…and prayed to God to give them strength to bear the trial He had sent them. What an example of faith…they gave their children, and how often my father (Fyodor Dostoevsky) must have remembered this scene during the course of his stormy life!”[1]

–By Liubov Fedorovna Dostoevskaia, (Fyodor Dostoevsky’s daughter) from her book, Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Study 

Mikhail Andreyevich Dostoevsky, the father

Mikhail Andreyevich Dostoevsky, the father

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow to Russian Orthodox parents. His father, a military surgeon, was severe in nature and held his family to rigorous standards. His very presence created an atmosphere of strength, but also condemnation, distorting the concept of God as a father.

Maria Fyodorovna Dostoevskaya, the mother

Maria Fyodorovna Dostoevskaya, the mother

Fortunately, his mother personified the unconditional love of God. “She was a pretty, gentle creature, devoted to her family, and absolutely submissive to her husband.” Together they had eight children—four boys and four girls—but one daughter was stillborn. Fyodor was born second. The interplay between his parents’ opposing natures is evident in Dostoevsky’s works and totally impacted his idea of God.

Though he grew up in the Lithuanian militaristic atmosphere of his father, he had the kind smile of his Russian mother. Liubov, his daughter wrote,

“He was livelier, more passionate and more enterprising than this brothers. His parents called him ‘the hothead.’ He was not proud…He loved the poor, and felt a keen interest in their lives. There was an iron gate between my grandfather’s private garden and the great garden of the hospital.

Dostoevsky's birthplace and hospital where his father worked

Dostoevsky’s birthplace and hospital where his father worked

The little Dostoyevskys were strictly forbidden to go to this gate; my grandparents distrusted the manners and behavior of the lower class Moscovites. All the children obeyed the injunction, with the exception of my fatherContinue reading

Divine Spark Within

Divine Spark Within

Anna Dostoevsky, 1846-1918

“I’m glad to see you Fyodor, and in such a cheerful mood at that. Has something pleasant happened to you?”

“Yes, it has. Last night I had a marvelous dream.”

“Oh, is that all!” And I started to laugh.

“Please don’t laugh. I attribute great meaning to dreams. My dreams are always prophetic.”

“In that case, tell me your dream!”

“Do you see that big rosewood box? That is a gift from my Siberian friend …and I value it very much. I keep my manuscripts and letters in it, and other things that are precious to me for their memories. And so this is my dream: I was sitting in front of that box and rearranging the papers in it. Suddenly something sparkled among them, some kind of bright little star. I was leafing through the papers and the star kept appearing and disappearing. And this was intriguing to me. I started slowly putting all the papers to one side. And there among them I found a little diamond, a tiny one, but very sparkling and brilliant.”

(A few moments later, Fyodor continued…)

“I’ve been thinking up a plot for a new novel,”

“Oh tell me, do tell me about it,” I begged, very curious. And (then) a brilliant improvisation poured out. Never, neither before nor afterward, did I hear from him such an inspired tale as on that day.

—From Dostoevsky: Reminiscences by Anna Dostoevsky, his wife

One of my passions is exploring the elements that shaped people of great faith. I prefer the story behind the biography, digging deeper, past someone’s known accomplishments to the person they were when no one was looking. And particularly—what happened in their childhood.

So one April, at a writer’s conference in California, an editor asked me about heroes of faith. The topic was a regular feature in her magazine. A lot of big names easily came to mind, but I paused. What person really shaped my faith?

Fyodor Dostoevsky 1821-1881

“Fyodor Dostoevsky,” I said. “The great Russian novelist.”

Her face brightened with surprise. She asked if I would write a full-length article. Being a brand new author, I felt flushed with excitement. But I specified my interest: “I’d like to write about the man beyond his writing.”

I’d been a fan of Dostoevsky’s work since high school when I did my final English term paper on his novel, Crime and Punishment. In college I read The Brothers Karamazov. That story presented the human condition and the struggle of faith like no other, excepting Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It moved me to the core as I wrestled with many of the same questions his characters asked.

For me, reading Russian literature was no small accomplishment. In junior high I had to go to Reading Lab because I was such a slow reader. Comprehension wasn’t a problem. I just wanted to read every single word. The funny thing is, it still takes me a long time to finish a book. But reading at a relaxed pace allows time to soak in a story, enter the conflict, and identify with the characters.

With a fresh writing assignment and the possibility of getting published I dove in. I ordered two books about Dostoevsky through Montana’s inter-library system. Anna, his wife, wrote one and his daughter, Lyubov, penned the other. I also read how his contemporaries felt about him.

Leo Tolstoy said, “To me, Dostoevsky was a precious person—perhaps the only person I might have asked about many things, and who might have given me answers about many things.”

Albert Einstein said,Continue reading