The Gamble

The Gamble

If you’ve been following my posts on Fyodor Dostoevsky, here is the final and perhaps the best one. Last week I challenged readers to read the famous chapter, “The Grand Inquisitor,” from Dostoevsky’s crowning achievement–an epic novel called, The Brothers Karamazov. It’s so remarkable that complete copies of the chapter are available online.

I wept, reading it again. I always do, even though it is a fantastical story in a fictional novel. Take a moment now in your busy week and ponder the deep questions in this famous piece of writing…

Imagine the wonder of Jesus returning to the earth. Not as promised in all His glory—yet. Rather, just to see what’s become of us in the interim, in the long lapse of time that started when He said, “Behold, I come quickly.”

The Seal for the Tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition

The Seal for the Tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition

The sub-story is set in Spain at the time of the Inquisition, a forceful suppression of religious freedom, punishable by death. Jesus came in ordinary clothes to the hot pavement of Seville, which on the day before, a hundred heretics had been burned by order of the Grand Inquisitor. Dostoevsky initially paints a beautiful scene…

“He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognized Him…The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, and power shines from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments.

healing_of_the_blind_man“An old man in the crowd, blind from childhood, cries out, ‘ O Lord, heal me and I shall see Thee!’ and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosanna. ‘It is He—it is He!’ repeat. It must be He, it can be no one but Him!’

“He stops at the steps of the (church) at the moment when the weeping mourners are bringing in a little open white coffin. In it lies a child of seven, the only daughter of a prominent citizen. The dead child lies hidden in flowers. ‘He will raise your child,’ the crowd shouts to the weeping mother.

“The priest, coming to meet the coffin, looks perplexed, and frowns, but the mother of the dead child throws herself at His feet with a wail, ‘if it is Thou, raise my child!’ she cries, holding out her hands to Him.  The procession halts, the coffin is laid on the steps at His feet. He looks with compassion, and His lips once more softly pronounce, ‘Maiden, arise!’ and the maiden arises. The little girl sits up in the coffin and looks round, smiling with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.”

I feel the presence of God in these words—an ache of homesickness for Jesus. Especially when the world is going crazy again…wars, rumors of war, famines, hurricanes, floods, fires and men who will cut off heads in the name of their god.

220px-Mateo_ZapataBut the story turns dark after this initial scene. I will cliff-note the gist for you. The Grand Inquisitor is the head of the church. He arrests Jesus but comes alone to His cell in the night to challenge Him face to face:

–Why are You here? We don’t need You, and You are interfering.

–Tomorrow, I will burn you at the stake as the worst of heretics.

–You gave us authority to run things, and You can’t take it back.

–You gave men free will, and humanity has paid dearly for it.

–People can’t handle the freedom to choose. It’s too great a burden.

–They’ve brought their freedom to us, laid it at our feet, and that’s been our plan all along.

–The devil warned you in the desert, handing you the answer to man’s happiness.

–Men will follow anyone who gives them bread. Obedience is bought with bread.

–But You offered them heavenly bread, and thousands will follow that promise. Yet what of the millions who are too weak and sinful to forego earthly bread for the heavenly?

–If You had chosen to make bread from stone, they would have worshipped you. And that is the key.

–As long as man is free he strives for nothing so incessantly, so painfully as to find someone to worship. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live (bread), but to have something to live for (worship). Without purpose, he would rather destroy himself though he had bread in abundance.

–And human beings want to agree universally on the object of worship. Common worship is the chief misery of humanity and they’ve slain each other over it.

Denying Satan by Carl Bloch

Denying Satan by Carl Bloch

–You had the chance for it all, but you rejected the devil’s offer for the sake of free will and the bread of Heaven. You knew that men would seek the miracle more than God. You craved faith given freely.

–So instead of taking possession of man’s dreadful freedom, you increased it, burdening us with the idea of a spiritual kingdom.

–You left man with a free heart to decide what is good and what is evil, having only Your image as a guide.

–This has caused more suffering and confusion and unanswerable problems.

–We take bread made by their hands and give it to them without any miracle.

–You did not see the value of complete submission. Until men are obedient and under complete authority, they remain unhappy.

–You think too highly of man. They are weak and vile. We have taken the sword of Caesar, so they will no longer rebel or destroy one another under Your freedom.

–We see them as indolent, pitiful children. We let them sin and say the punishment is on our shoulders. They are happy and obey us. We allure them with the reward of heaven and eternity. But when they die they will find nothing. We keep this secret from them. There is no mystery beyond this life.

–I am finally awakened and will no longer serve madness. I am an atheist and have joined the ranks of those who are correcting Your folly.

Jesus just listened...

Jesus just listened…

“When the Inquisitor ceased speaking, he waited some time for his Prisoner to answer him. His silence weighed down upon him. He saw that the Prisoner had listened intently all the time, looking gently in his face and evidently not wishing to reply. The old man longed for Him to say something, however bitter and terrible.

“But He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him. That was all his answer.

“The old man shuddered. He went to the door, opened it and said to Him” ‘Go, and come no more…come not at all, never, never!’ And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town. The Prisoner went away.”

And the kiss glowed in the old man’s heart, but he remained in his beliefs.

    *    *    *    *    *

Was the gamble of free will worth it? What do you think Jesus thought of the Inquisitor’s rant?


  1. yes, worth it! although sometimes it’s easy to wish it could’ve been different from day one….
    i think jesus felt compassion for the inquisitor, understood it, and the kiss says it all doesn’t it?

    • Yes, the kiss from Jesus to me is a “Father-forgive-them-they-don’t-know-what-they’re doing,” kind of thing. Glad that applies to you and me as well, my dear friend!