My first response to Ivan’s rebellion was mixed. I find myself agreeing with yet disagreeing with him at the same time. I don’t want to “return the ticket”, but I want to rage with Ivan at the injustice that takes place in the world. I don’t want to accept them, and I can’t for the life of my imagine why anyone could allow such things for a “greater good”. In this regard Ivan’s mutiny against God certainly has a moral aspect to it which I find admirable. He hates the evil. There is something Christian about hating the evil in the world (doesn’t God?) and choosing not to accept it. It is my belief at this stage that any Christian response to Ivan must be first to reject, hate, and at the very least scratch their heads towards the evil that takes place in the world, rather than simply offering an “explanation”.

The problem I have found with many theodicies is an attempt to explain why evil happens. Before I work out whether or not God seeks to offer an explanation of the problem of evil, the main concern I have with explaining why evil takes place is that it then becomes part of a plan. If evil is part of a plan, how can it be described as evil? It becomes a thing that God uses in constructing his edifice. If that is so, what does this say of the morality of God for surely it contradicts with the notion that “God is love”? Yet if it is not part of a plan, what role does a God whom we proclaim to be sovereign have in it?So many questions! (and I realise at this stage it is all I have really done so far…)

What is very interesting is that during the discussion Aleksey, although horrified at the thought of Ivan rebelling against God, agrees with him. When Ivan asks if he would agree to the construction of an edifice he can only quietly stammer “No, I wouldn’t agree”. At this stage in my research I feel the imperative to do similar. I could not agree to the construction of such an edifice. I can’t see how the tears of those children could be validated by some “eternal harmony” in the future. The difference between myself and Ivan is that I can’t stand in judgement over God as he does. However, how can I justify my beliefs in regard to his objection….


Some of you were asking what Ivan’s view of God is. In short, it doesn’t matter. There only needs to be a God to rebel against, and that is enough for Ivan.

Ivan says; “It isn’t God I don’t accept, you see; it’s the world created by Him, the world of God I don’t accept and cannot agree to accept”

This does not mean that Ivan therefore accepts God, or that he necessarily even believes in him. Far from it! His point is that he can only deal with the world in front of him. Ivan has stated that if God exists and he really did create the world, he has created humankind with minds according to “Euclidean geometry”. Essentially what this means is that we live in a world where parallel minds will always meet, and two plus two will always equal four. With this understanding, Ivan says concerning questions of whether or not God exists; “I meekly confess that I do not possess the faculties needed to solve such questions”. His mind is an Earthbound one, so he says all he can deal with are the facts, that which is before him. Questions of God are beyond his faculty. He says that he is happy to believe that there may be a God and that there may be an eternal harmony at the end in which “the offensive comedy of human conflict will disappear”. But nevertheless all that to go by is what is in front of him and make sense of it with his Euclidean mind. And what he sees, he cannot accept.

So what is Ivan’s view of God? It doesn’t matter. Ivan observes the world and he sees the senseless and brutal suffering of children. No matter what God’s role is in the evil, whether he created it or simply allowed it to happen, the fact is that there is an eternal harmony (our word for heaven, or the new creation) which God has allowed to be built on the tears of children. He cannot be a part of any plan, even if it involves returning his ticket to the salvation it promises. To do so would be immoral.

Here is a link to the chapter ‘Rebellion’ mentioned in the above post. I’d recommend you read it if you have the chance and want to feel the weight of what Ivan says. The link also has the following chapter, ‘The Grand Inquisitor’, which is very important to Ivan’s argument. The chapter is so well known that it has been reprinted as a book in itself, but of course it has to be understood in light of the whole novel. In short, Christ returns during the Inquisition and the Catholic Church sentence him to death. It has a lot to say about the human nature and freedom. It’s also a cracking good read!

Warning: some people may find this post a little gruesome and confronting.

Through the mouth of Ivan Karamazov, Dostoevsky recounts true stories of senseless violence done toward children that he had collected over the years in newspapers. He recounts tales of soldiers cutting babies from their mothers wombs,  and then throwing the babies in the air and catching them on bayonets in front of the mothers eyes.  A story of babies being allured with a pistol, making them giggle and laugh by the taunts only to have the trigger pulled in their faces. A story of a little five-year old girl beaten and locked in the freezing cold in an outside latrine for wetting her bed, who beats her breast with her little fist crying out to Jesus. And finally the story of a serf child who is set upon and killed by hounds for accidentally bruising a general’s favourite hound in a game. After these horrific stories, given in much more detail in the novel, Ivan issues his brother Aleksey with this challenge:

“Tell me yourself directly, I challenge you – reply: imagine that you yourself are erecting the edifice of human fortune with the goal of, at the finale, making people happy, of at last giving them peace and quiet, but that in order to do it would be necessary and unavoidable to torture to death only one little creature, that same little child that beat its little fist, and on its unavenged tears to found that edifice, would you agree to be the architect on those conditions, tell me and tell me truly?”

Ivan rejects God, not because he does not think he exists, but because he believes it immoral to partake in any plan that would involve the suffering of children. If God has ordained for the salvation of some, but has counted it worth it to involve the tears of even one of these children, the price is too high. It is not worth it, so Ivan respectfully “returns the ticket” to his salvation. He is a true rebel.

It wasn’t until I read this in Dostoevsky’s epic The Brothers Karamazov that I first realised how difficult the problem of evil is for Christianity. David Bentley Hart believes it constitutes the only challenge to a confidence in divine goodness that should give Christians serious cause for deep and difficult reflection. A. Boyce Gibson goes as far as to say that since its publication “it has become unfashionable, not to say impious, to contend that all is for the best in God’s world”.  Dostoevsky said himself that the whole novel is a response to Ivan’s argument. My desire for 2011 is to spend some time thinking about the the problem of evil and Dostoevsky’s response to Ivan’s argument for a mini-project I’m doing for my final year at Moore Theological College. Please feel free to comment at any time and offer any critique or advice. I’m no expert in this area, but I believe it to be a very serious issue that all, both believer and non-believer, should concern themselves with.