In his novel, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky tells the story of two criminals. The first criminal is a depressed but intelligent young man, Raskolnikov.
Raskolnikov believes morality is a human invention, and that right and wrong are bourgeois concepts inapplicable to people of superior intellect, like himself. To prove he’s right, Raskolnikov murders an old hag of a woman.
“The murder is not a moral issue,” he reasons, “she was worthless.” Enormous guilt nonetheless overwhelms Raskolnikov, guilt his rational mind cannot resolve.
Sonya is the second “criminal.” Her family is destitute, and she needs to feed her younger siblings who will starve without her help. She prostitutes herself. Nonetheless, Sonya appears naïve. She innocently believes in God, and her prized possession is the Bible. God will save us all, she insists.
Sonya and Raskolnikov meet. Sonya’s naiveté enthralls him, but her faith angers him. He eventually insists – belligerently – that she read her Scripture to him. To her, the act of reading Scripture is intimate, but he persists and insists, violating her boundaries with his unwelcome intrusion. But she does it; she reads the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
When Jesus in Sonya’s voice calls Lazarus forth from the tomb, “Lazarus come forth!,” her voice rises in crescendo, to the ecstatic point at which she proclaims her own resurrection faith, as though imprinted in the text:
…and they believed on Him.
They believed, Sonya believed, and with that, Dostoevsky writes,
The candle end had long been flickering out in its crooked holder, dimly illuminating in this beggarly little room the murderer and the harlot, who had so strangely come together to read the Eternal Book.
Here is where I think of us. Don’t we, too, strangely come together to read the Eternal Book? Complicit through crimes and darkness, we are desperate yet self-sufficient souls in contradictory need of faith.
Raskolnikov finds the Eternal Book unbelievable, and dry. And perhaps so do we. At least some weeks, hearing the words of the Eternal Book as though its essence, its life-giving spirit, has escaped like air from a flat balloon. All that remains is limp rubber, and perhaps a knotted string.
But … The candle end ha[s] long been flickering out in its crooked holder…
And, They believed!
Hearing words of truth, we too believe. Winter belief, that there is some reality that extends beyond ourselves, hidden within the darkness – even when we feel so deeply afraid.
We are at once Sonya and Raskolnikov – owning a faith so hard to commit to, longing for a faith so hard to contain.
Epiphany is not about preparing to receive light. Nor is it about arcane credal words suddenly illuminated. Instead, Epiphany is the nascent light of Christ splitting night into two. Not because we are worthy, but because God decided for reasons unknown to exist with us.
To love us.
To give him/herself completely to us.
In the midst of anti-light, your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Not historically, but right here, right now, God saves tangibly.
Affirming one’s baptismal faith does not happen by the recitation of and concession to arcane words or concepts, but with the donation of the soul to God. Re-gifting, if you will, the soul lent to you at birth. All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.
Which is why, I belong to God the Creator; I belong to God the Redeemer; I belong to God the Sustainer.
I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief. The man answered Jesus when he asked, Do you believe.