Crime and Punishment
Updated: Feb 27, 2022
Russia. The country known for its novelists, ballet, and vodka has found its way into recent headlines with its recent invasion of Ukraine. Emotions run high throughout the world as we are able to watch the live footage of the invasion around the globe with the click of a button. Social media has been flooded with post after post encouraging prayers for Ukraine, and rightfully so. The brutality against them is unspeakably horrific. However, I have yet to see one post soliciting prayers for Russia. Both are necessary, as Christ tells us, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
About two weeks ago, before Russia crossed the line into Ukrainian territory, I started reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This classic tale was inspired by French murderer Pierre François Lacenaire, who created quite the media sensation of his day with his polite charismatic personality, which seemingly contradicted the horrific nature of his crimes. Dostoyevsky read about Pierre's crimes upon returning home from his ten-year sentence to Serbia for "spreading free-thinking" due to his open political beliefs. Dostoyevsky, a poor, struggling gambling addict, was under an enormous amount of pressure to complete Crime and Punishment because he was on a tight deadline on the verge of losing everything. As a fellow addict, I am fascinated with the novel's overall theme of wrestling with morality and the struggle between good versus evil.
Spoiler alert: Do not read any further if you do not want me to ruin the novel's plot.
Crime and Punishment is a murder story written from the perspective of the murderer. The main character Raskolnikov murders two women. As readers, we get an inside view of his internal dialogue before and after the crime. We watch him rationalize the horrific act beforehand, convincing himself of the necessity of their deaths for the greater good of society due to the older woman's occupation as a pawnbroker "preying on the misfortune of the poor". Following the murders, we get an inside view of his nervous breakdown as the guilt and suspense of being caught builds up inside of him as he walks around the streets of St. Petersburg. Over and over again, we see a loving and caring side that contradicts our stereotypical view of a murderer. We see him act benevolently on numerous occasions as he responds to help the great suffering around him. For example, he gives all of his money to a struggling family even as he lives in destitute poverty.
What I love most about this book is that it shows the rawness of human nature. The characters don't seem to know why they do the things they do, good or bad. In Raskolnikov's confession of the murders to a prostitute named Sonia, he says, "I was only trying to show to you that the devil had dragged me there and that it was only afterward that he explained to me that I had no right to go there because I was the same kind of louse as the rest." (Pg 433) With each and every character throughout the novel, we see the sinner and the saint that lives within all of us. We don't always know why we do the things we do. We might start the day with the grandest intentions, but by the end of it, we have done the exact opposite of what we set out to do. It's pure insanity until God intervenes.
Centuries before Crime and Punishment was written, Paul tells us in Romans 7:15-18, "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." We see Dostoyevsky wrestling with the meaning of his own life through the character of Raskolnikov. Towards the very end of this brilliant work, we find Raskolnikov sitting in a Siberian prison (which mirrors the author's life). One can only speculate the stories Dostoyevsky heard from the others prisoners during his long exile and how this fed into his imagination. We are given access inside of Raskolnikov's thoughts, and we see that he still can't come to terms with the events that have happened. He speculates his only crime is that unlike those who shed blood by successfully seizing power (in such a way that we are seeing Russia attempt to do with Ukraine in this present time), his only crime was not successful in his endeavor by turning himself in. Still, in the early ambitiousness of his early twenties, his mind cannot reconcile that his identity was never found in his actions (good or bad). Our identities are found solely in the fact we are God's children and that He loves us. We see a glimpse of God's unconditional agape love through the prostitute Sonia who, through self-sacrificial love, followed him to the end of the earth. Her love for him eventually melts his heart and inspires new hope in him to persevere towards a brighter future.
As we find ourselves judging Russia, let us remember that we are all in a fallen world waiting to go Home. It is easy to villainize Putin but much harder to pray for him. Love, not hate, is what changes the world for the better. Let us pray that God will change his heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Russia’s actions might be horrible, but there are plenty of good people and ideas that come from the beautiful country. We can’t judge the entire country based off of the decisions their leader is making. It is comparable to judging an entire family based off of the bad decisions their sick alcoholic father is making in his active addiction. Let us pray for both sides, as we know in our hearts that there is nothing right about the wrongs being committed. Let us pray for those who have lost loved ones, and those who are suffering. Let us pray for peace as we wait for the return of Jesus. Let us pray for Ukraine…and Russia.