But at the same time he knew now and knew for certain that, although it filled her with dread and suffering, yet she had a tormenting desire to read and to read to him that he might hear it, and to read now whatever might come of it! … He read this in her eyes, he could see it in her intense emotion. She mastered herself, controlled the spasm in her throat and went on reading the eleventh chapter of John. She went to the nineteenth verse …
— Crime and Punishment (1866)

I have often experienced the power of literature in my life. As a child I was not only gripped by such classic page-turners as The Runaway Bunny and Yurtle the Turtle, but I was gradually enchanted with heavier fare like that of The Chronicles of Narnia which could suck me in, inspire me, and turn my world upside down. Still, it wasn’t until high school that any work of literature would actually bring me to tears.

That book was Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (charming title, Russian patronyms, and all).  The main character is a rascal named Raskolnikov who, by reason of the atheism and nihilism of which he has become convinced, commits a graphic murder in cold blood. In the course of the book, he meets a young girl named Sonia who has been forced by circumstances into prostitution but whose spirit and tenderness is kept alive by her abiding faith in Christ.  Raskolnikov, perplexed at seeing her simple hope survive all of her suffering and pain, is driven nearly to madness with the tantalizing prospect that there might be a God who raises the dead. Consumed with guilt and passion, he commands Sonia one night to read him the story of the raising of Lazarus, at which point the author Dostoevsky writes out verbatim an excerpt from the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel.

The sorrow of these two pitiful characters admirably reflects not only the sorrow of Martha and Mary but the sorrow of a world broken by sin, by guilt, by corruption, and by death itself, and placed in this dark setting the words of Jesus took on an impassioned lustre which brought me to sobs. The Lord says “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” not only to Martha, but to Sonia, to Raskolnikov, to you, and to all of us. The Man who said this actually wept at the tomb of Lazarus, not out of obligation, but because He more than anyone in the world understood the horribleness of death and the wretchedness of sin, and because He more than anyone in the world loved this man who had succumbed to the curse and sting and victory of death.  Yet this Man is the Resurrection. He is the Life. And He actually called Lazarus back from the clutches of death.

These words brought me to tears, and (to be perfectly honest) they still often bring me to tears. True, what He offers us is beyond our comprehension, but that does not mean that it is beyond our hope, beyond our longing, beyond our passion, or beyond our faith. He offers us Resurrection, and He is able not only to offer it but to give it, because He first has been raised from the dead.

This short article was published in the Resurrection Times: Wednesday Edition, July 21, 2010. Its purpose was to whet the whistle of its readers for the up-coming sermon on the Doctrine of the Resurrection.

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