Dostoevsky and Dialectical Theology

Theological Examination of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Hi! I decided to talk about one of my favorite books because I was inspired by a group of students and my academic research. I had fun working on this video. I hope you enjoy it.(It’s a bit longer than I had hoped it would be, but I definitely said the things I wanted to…and could have said a lot more!).


Tyranny of Jealousy: The Burden of the Delusional Mind

Under all the many facades I have and use throughout my day, lies a vicious beast. Her name is “Jealousy” and she’s no friend.  She’s a cruel task master that drives me; her whip, relentless against my conscience. I’ve no control over her; in her grip I’m no better than a child’s rag-doll: limp and spineless. Her tongue is swift; she’s capable to spin the most amazing tales that weave and wend through my ears to my mind, plaguing me with lies. I’m blindsided when she surfaces; joyous moments are turned–in the blink of an eye–into gloomy ones, gloomy edged with the red of anger. And while you can’t see her, I feel her burdensome presence heavy on my mind and heart, in my muscles and bones.


In the hands of God jealousy is a good thing used to show and express how much He loves us (cf. the entire bible); in my  hands, jealousy is a bad thing that exposes (to me) how much I want not to love you and, to be honest, how much I want to dominate and devour you. When jealousy rears her head, I see not a person before me but a thing that exposes all my failures and shortcomings, a thing to be conquered and quashed. When God says that He’s jealous for us, something beautiful happens: He sends His son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save all of us wandering whores; when I’m jealous, something ugly happens: i think only of myself and my next move to assert myself over you.


No matter how eloquently I speak of my jealousy and anthropomorphise it, the problem of my jealousy is neither eloquent nor an other thing/persona. My jealousy reveals that there is glitch in the system, my system; it reveals that there’s a problem, a big problem. And that problem is with me and my broken mind and hardened heart. Jealousy doesn’t happen to me,  but from within me.  Jealousy is a loud siren and bright flashing red light that all is not well, that I’m completely broken.


My mind is adept at creating a story-line that’s not real and then simultaneously swallowing it whole: hook, line, and sinker. In the spaces and gaps between the dots and facts my mind connects to create these false story-lines, jealousy is born. And since jealousy is embedded and born from my own mind, there’s no hope that I’ll solve this problem and silence her seductive whispers, from within. I can’t. The very thing I need to fix this problem–my mind–is being held captive by the problem.


I need another story-line. I need a true story-line.


And for this troubled and delusional mind, there is no better remedy than the Word of God which is Christ and His word the Gospel. The external and preached word of the Gospel is the sword that pierces my perceived reality and makes way for actual reality to enter into my world, my life, my mind. To hear that God loves me so much that He sent His only son to die for my transgressions and raised him for my justification (John 3:16; Rom 4:25) even in the midst of my current wretched jealous state, brings me to my knees; and I cry out: forgive me, a sinner; forgive me, I’m jealous! In hearing–shema hearing; deep-down-in-my-heart-hearing–what is actual, I am given the words to speak, words that are true and not merely mental fabrications and my false story-line begins to unravel. In hearing what is true and real, I’m given new language, language that accurately declares what a thing is. And being able to declare what a thing is, “calling a spade a spade,” is the beautiful linguistic characteristic that makes a theologian of the cross a theologian of the cross (Forde). Calling a spade a spade loosens the tyranny that thing has over you; it puts it in it’s proper place: at the foot of the cross and under the heal of Him who has crushed it’s head (Gen 3).

Wrapped up in the true story-line that is Jesus Christ and His word that is the Gospel–the doctrine of the justification of sinners (me, you, and the whole world)–we are given rest from concocting half baked notions because we have the facts, we have what is real, and we have the words to declare what a thing is.  Wrapped up in the story line of Christ, we are swept up into the arms of a very loving and jealous-for-us God, given the freedom to confess our errors and failures, our sickness and brokenness, and our hard and jealous hearts.  Wrapped up in the story-line of Christ, we can relinquish the burden of our delusional minds.


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)


Silencing the Messy Conscience

Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.
Martin Luther “The Life and Letters of Martin Luther”

You might not know it from the outside but I’m a mess; that’s not a celebratory statement, it’s just the truth.  I’m a mess, but not based on my works. I’m a hard worker, from morning to night. If any one were to say anything to me it wouldn’t be: Work more!, it would be: I’m worried about you…you’re working too hard! I’ve actually heard that before.  You wouldn’t necessarily call me a mess because I’m not a “mess”, at least not on the outside.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

I can cry: I’m a mess! But you might cry: Foul!

Because my mess isn’t (currently) external but internal. My mess is locked in my conscience, under the stern eye of a horrible prison warden that drives me on relentlessly. My conscience is easily pricked by the accusations of the devil and, rather than do what Luther recommends above, I actively try to prove those accusations wrong by my works. I’m a mess because of the chaos on the inside, the storm that wages violently, the guilt that drives me to fear sitting down, to do only my best, to care about/do everything. And daily I have to talk my own self down off a ledge with words of the Law and the Gospel; not only daily but multiple times a day.  I am justified by faith in Christ apart from (both good and bad) works…

And this is the leveling force of the two words of Law and Gospel: we are all messes not purely based on the external state of our persons, places, and things; truly, we are messes because of what is going on with our consciences. And because of this, you and I both want that conscience soothed, to silence the voice of the internal, relentless, prison warden driving us with bullwhip and yoke.  So we do what we know best, we’ll either try to work our way to virtue or we’ll try to make failure a virtue–but nonetheless, it’s a pursuit to justify oneself by works. I will either try to show the other “overachievers” how awesome I am (tell me how awesome I am!) to silence that relentless voice, or I will try to garner some camaraderie among the other “ne’erdowells” (my failure’s ok, right?) to silence it. Both approaches–which most of us vacillate between daily, if not hourly–are self-justifications because they’re centered around works.  Both groups of people are looking for affirmation.

What we need–what our troubled, messy consciences need–isn’t affirmation from our peers but absolution from God. We need the Gospel; we need the Gospel of the justification of sinners. We need freedom; we need the freedom that comes from the words: You are forgiven from your self-justification, from your good and bad works.  We need to be coaxed out, loved out, convinced it’s really safe to come out of our prisons because captivity is all we know and that’s safe; freedom is unknown and is risky.  No one can preach too much freedom to the former captives–even when they are pushing boundaries, asking do you still love me now? Am I still justified by faith now? What about now? ….Annnnd…now?  Because the answer is always: Yes, even now. I love you even now.

For messes like us, there is no such thing as moving on from or getting too much of the doctrine of justification, the proclamation of the Gospel, the pronouncement of absolution, because we are too dull to get it, too skeptical to believe it, too scared to actually leave our prisons behind.  If push came to shove, most of us would rather try to sin less than thumb our nose at the accusations of the devil by drinking more, recreating more, joking more; captivity doesn’t shake off easily, captives maintain their captive mindset far long after they’ve been set free.

For messes like us, one-way love, freedom, and what Jesus has done on our behalf is too good to be true; thus, for messes like us there’s no such thing as too much love, too much freedom, too much Jesus.