What if you decided to give up everything you owned and live among the poorest of the poor? Would it make any difference in the world? Would it make any difference in your life?
Tolstoy tried it and the results were mixed. His family didn't want him to give up his property and they wanted to retain the rights to his work. After his death they won it all back in court. We know Tolstoy by his greatest works 'War and Peace'
(1863-1869)and 'Anna Karenina'(1873-1877) of course. So how is it I have never before read his third great novel, 'Resurrection'(1899)?
Tolstoy's later writings caused a great deal of trouble for a great number of people. 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' and other writings and thoughts troubled the Orthodox Church so much that he was excommunicated in 1901. He corresponded with M.K. Gandhi about the way of nonviolent resistance to evil. (Still a controversial idea today in this world filled with violence). It is better to let such troubling ideas slip into oblivion, is it not? But this is Tolstoy! How can you silence this great author and moralist? But that is apparently what happened to 'Resurrection' in those years following his death in the train station at Astapovo in 1910.
'Resurrection' is the story of Prince Dmitri Nekhlyodov who, as a younger man, seduced and then abandoned a young woman by the name of Katyusha. Many years later he chances to become involved in her life again - as a juror this time - and he is confronted with the fact that his actions have ruined her life. He becomes determined to give up everything and follow her into exile in Siberia.
The questions remains: Will he be able to find redemption in his attempt to overturn his past mistakes? Will it make any difference to anyone if he does? Will the world be a better place because of his sacrifice?
Tolstoy's conclusions will be as disturbing today as they were then to those who have chosen to look for answers everywhere but in the Bible: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all the rest shall be added on to you."
Tolstoy highlights five 'commandments' from the Bible, each of which is most disturbing to those of us who have decided to try to live this way literally in our daily lives. They are commandments based upon the law of love and nonviolence. From our own experience we have found that the way of love leads us quite literally to die to this world and to be resurrected in eternity. 'Resurrection' is work of literature that explores that territory.