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The Weight of the Law

Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 23:23


          “When I reached the age of fifty, five years ago, …I had been for thirty-five years a Nihilist…in the sense that I had no religious belief.  Five years ago, I began to believe in the teaching of Jesus Christ, and my life was suddenly changed.  I ceased to care for all that I had formerly desired, and began to long for what I had once cared nothing for.  What had before seemed good, seemed bad, and what had seemed bad, now seemed good…The tendency of my life, and all my desires, became different:  good and evil changed places.  And all this came from understanding the teaching of Jesus otherwise than as I had formerly understood it.” 


          So begins the book, What I Believe, written by Leo Tolstoy in 1884 at the age of 55.  Tolstoy was born to a wealthy, aristocratic Russian family in 1828.  He was raised in the church, but church was more about conformity and tradition than substance and meaning.  He was spoiled and self-indulgent.  In his early 20’s, after running up a number of gambling debts, he joined the army and ended up fighting in the Crimean War.  He was a good soldier and in recognition of his bravery and service, he was promoted to the level of lieutenant.  However, he was very shaken and altered by the number of deaths he witnessed and left the army immediately following the war.  He did much traveling around Europe and spent time with many of the leading thinkers of the day.  In 1869 he published one of the great novels of all time, War and Peace.  Then in the 1870’s he began going through a spiritual awakening, a conversion even. 


     Tolstoy writes, “I, like the thief [on the cross], knew that the life I had lived and was living was bad, that the majority of men around me led the same life.  I also, like the thief, knew that I was unhappy and suffering, and that around me others were also unhappy and suffering…I, like the thief, was nailed by some force to a cross, to an evil and suffering life…In all this I was like the thief:  the difference between myself and him was this, that he was dying and I was still alive.  The thief could believe that his salvation was there, beyond the grave; but I could not be satisfied with that, because, besides the life beyond the grave, there was yet before me a life here.  I did not understand that life; it seemed to me terrible.  Then suddenly I heard the words of Jesus; I understood them; and life and death ceased to appear evil.  Instead of despair, I felt the joy and happiness of a life never to be destroyed by death.”