Note: This was my last journal entry for The Brothers Karamazov for a doctoral class that I took thirteen years ago.
Luke 18:17. “Amen, I say unto you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
This piece of scripture entered my head when I first read about Ilyusha and Alyosha; it returned when I read Ivan’s dossier against God, with his newspaper clippings of tortured children.
It also echoed my thoughts when read Mitya’s dream of the babe, the defense and prosecutor’s speeches of fathers and children, and finally Alyosha, the schoolboys, and the death of Ilyusha, at the end of the novel.
As seen in the novel, the lot of children is NOT a happy lot, is not a life filled with goodness and sweets and sunshine. The children in the novel are suffering children, proud children (like Kolya), neglected children (like the three Karamazov boys and Smerdyakov).
Does God really want people to be like children, impotent, tortured, incapable of willing their own destiny?
But look at the adults of the novel: licentious Fyodor, self-lacerating Katerina, amoral Rakitin. Are not these adults just as impotent, tortured, incapable but just on a different level, a level of deceit in which they convince themselves that they are really free and thus can will their happiness?
The one person in the novel who seems to embody the childlike acceptance of God’s kingdom seems to be Father Zosima, and thus it is important that the reader sees Father Zosima’s life from childhood to young adulthood to mature adulthood to old age to death.
The reader even sees Father Zosima after death (in Alyosha’s vision at the wedding at Cana), and one becomes aware of just what Christ meant when he meant “like a child.”
A child, more than anything else, is a dependent being, aware of its impotence and need for others. A child is also a loving being, loving those upon whom it depends upon.
What Father Zosima exhibits, and what Christ calls for in Luke, is that active loving despite the suffering of the world, despite his impotence to change the world, despite his own suffering.
The child depends upon others for its survival, and all people need to depend upon each other for their survival. This acceptance of dependence upon others, this active loving upon others, even when that loving is difficult – especially when that loving is difficult – is what Christ’s mission was about and what Father Zosima’s life was also all about.
Christ lived among fallen Man, and he must have seen what children are capable of in their fallenness. Despite their fallenness – because of their fallenness – he came to them, and it is these fallen children – young and old – who will enter the kingdom of Heaven.