Edhird's Blog

Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit


Leave a comment

The Foolishness of God in Dostoevsky’s Idiot

The Foolishness of God in Dostoevsky’s Idiot

By Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

-an article for the Light Magazine

Have you ever been foolishly attracted to the world, the flesh and the devil?  Has your self-centeredness and desire for approval ever harmed your best interests? Why does Christianity often look so foolish to secular people in our hi-tech, frantic world?

            In Dostoevsky’s favorite novel The Idiot, we meet Prince Myshkin, a Christ-like person whose goodness, open-heartedness, and genuineness lead people to call him an idiot sixty times in the novel. He saw Myshkin as his best and richest poetic idea. Three times in his notes, Dostoevsky identifies Myshkin as a Christ figure.  Like Jesus, he was full of child-like grace and truth.  In his blueprints, Dostoevsky refers to Myshkin as “Prince Christ”: “Christ is and always will be the ideal, ours (in Russia) or that of civilized Europe.”

Myshkin had just returned to St. Petersburg, the Russian Capital, after five years away in a Swiss sanitorium for epileptics. In the midst of great corruption, Jesus the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).  So too, Myshkin came to dwell in the midst of a cynical, jaded world.  As the epicentre of the Russian political world, St. Petersburg was full of clever pretenders, politicians, and posers who hid in plain view from each other: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) Myshkin exposed the nakedness of the ‘kings with no clothes.’  No one could hide from his loving gaze.

Since only the knowledge of the truth can see us free, Myshkin’s speaking truth to power helped a few give up their lies.  Most initially clung to their lies, and rejected Myshkin as totally inappropriate and stupidly naïve. His ‘unsuccessful’ encounter with the Russian elite reminds me of John 1:10-11:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Just like with Jesus, Myshkin was the wrong kind of messiah, coming in humility rather than as a conqueror.  As a quintessential Russian holy fool, he threatened their love of power, money, and sexual conquest. Everything for this highly politicized culture was an elaborate game of deception and manipulation. Like the power-hungry Pontius Pilate, they had become cynical about the possibility of truth. In their childishness, they rejected Myshkin’s strong wisdom as weakness:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

The French-speaking Russian elite, though clinging to an outward form of religion, had largely become atheistic because of the influence of the French revolution. Even Christianity for these power-brokers became little more than another way to control and subjugate ‘lesser’ people.  Dostoevsky believed that western culture was dying because it rejected Jesus: “those who kill God also kill man.”

Dostoevsky drew on the comic figure of Don Quixote in creating his ‘positively good and beautiful’ person:

There’s nothing more difficult than that in the whole world… There’s only one positively beautiful person in the world — Christ, so that the appearance of this measurelessly, infinitely beautiful person is in fact of course an infinite miracle.

 He saw Don Quixote as the most complete of beautiful people in Christian literature: “…he is only beautiful because he is ridiculous at the same time…” Don Quixote, like Prince Myshkin, was this strange blend of apparent foolishness, and great wisdom.  In their fighting the windmills of secularity, neither made any sense to the sophisticated elite. Outwardly, it looked like a useless failure that only made things worse.

Jesus, like Myshkin and Quixote, is the seemingly ‘foolish’ Prince of fools. Will the real fool stand up? How often are we fooled? 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it,

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness…

Quixote, Jesus, and Myshkin suffer deeply because they ‘foolishly’ love and serve the unlovable.  All three were ridiculed, beaten with stones, and betrayed by their most trusted friends.

One is reminded of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who was despised and rejected. It reminds us of the apparent foolishness of Jesus’ love on the cross for us:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)

Jesus, the bridegroom, loves his bride, the very broken, often conflicted Church. Similarly, Myshkin loved his potential bride Nastasia who was very beautiful, but deeply wounded in her soul by sexual exploitation. Myshkin helped open Nastasia’s eyes temporarily to her deep worth, but in her shame, she kept running from Myshkin back to those who would mistreat her.  The most beautiful often feel the most ugly and unworthy. We too as the wounded bride of Christ often run from his relentless love.

The problem of the existence of God had long tormented Dostoevsky, the intellectual idiot.  He came to a deep faith in Christ through much suffering and questioning as a political prisoner in Siberia: “My hosanna has passed through a great crucible of doubt.” He struggled with irritability and spite, and had a strong gambling addiction that took him many years to break free.  Through the example of other faithful prisoners and in reading the New Testament, Dostoevsky:

accepted Christ back into (his) heart, whom (he) had come to know as a child living with my parents and whom (he) almost lost once, because of turning into a ‘European liberal.’”

            Dostoevsky wanted all of us to accept the crucified idiot back into our hearts.  Imagine how such a heart transformation might affect the Russian/Ukrainian conflict. Have you ever lost the Prince of Peace through giving into cynicism and negativity? What if you opened our heart and mind up again today?

Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

Co-authors, God’s Firestarters


Leave a comment

Battle for the Tortured Soul of Russia

Enjoy this Light Magazine article and feel free to repost. Praying for the soul of Russia.

Leo Tolstoy’s battle for the tortured soul of Russia

By Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird

After publishing his wildly successful War and Peace in 1865, Tolstoy thought of writing a novel on Peter the Great. So, he began learning ancient Greek.

Tolstoy called the time of terrible uncertainty between writing projects “the dead time.”  His self-doubt perhaps meant that he would never write anything again. He was plagued by fears that he himself was finished as a writer. “It was all over for him; it was time for him to die.”

Two years after finishing War and Peace, he still felt so depressed that he privately told a friend that he had no will to live, and had never felt so miserable in all his life. It would be three years before Tolstoy started Anna Karenina, a novel in which both key characters Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin struggled with great self-doubt about their relationships and even life itself. It seems that many of Tolstoy’s more painful emotions were projected onto Anna Karenina.

Perhaps more than any other, Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s novel that readers consistently say they cannot stop reading. If you are still mystified to why Russia recently invaded Ukraine, read Anna Karenina.  The intense humanity of Tolstoy’s complex characters allows us to read it again and again with new insights about the Russian soul. Many consider Anna Karenina to be the best novel ever written. Over 300,000,000 people have purchased it so far. You could be next. Tolstoy saw it as his first novel, as he refused to call his earlier War & Peace a novel. 

Why did Tolstoy write such an intense novel about adultery?  Biblically speaking, adultery is often a metaphor for spiritual idolatry.  As Romans 1 puts it, we are tempted to abandon ourselves to the twin temptations of adultery and idolatry. 

How was Tolstoy able to write so vividly and realistic about adultery and idolatry?  Because like the Apostle Paul, he considered himself to be the chief of sinners. In his 1882 book Confessional, he commented:

I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants’ toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder – there was not a crime I did not commit… Thus, I lived for ten years.” 

His mother died when Tolstoy was two year’s old.  Raised as an aristocratic orphan, he came into massive wealth and landholdings at age 19. His wild gambling debts in the military forced him to sell off villages that he owned, before he finally lost his principal house itself.  Similarly, Levin, the hero of the Anna Karenina novel, struggled with gambling temptations before getting married and settling down. Many of the Russian aristocracy in the 1800s were renowned for massive gambling debts in the military, while simultaneously despising money itself.  Is the reckless Russian invasion of the Ukraine an expression of this same gambling addiction? 

Like many in the Russian aristocracy, Tolstoy was trained to see hunting and warfare as vital to masculine courage and bravery.  Many of Tolstoy’s books, including Anna Karenina, give a seldom-seen, up-close view of the battlefield.  He was the first newspaper war correspondent. Tolstoy no more glorified warfare than John Newton glorified slavery.  Both Tolstoy and Newton, however, because of their first-hand experience, were able to give a first-hand critique of what was really happening in their time. Both helped turn many others to peace and reconciliation. 

Tolstoy defined his essential family trait by the Russian word dikost which means wildness, shyness, originality and independence in thinking, much like the quintessential Russian bear.  Not even the autocratic Tzar himself could tame Tolstoy.  In his novels, Tolstoy could get away with saying things that would immediately exile other Russians to Siberia.  He was so uncontrollable, almost like John the Baptist, so that even the top officials feared to criticize him publicly. 

One of Tolstoy’s more scandalous behaviours was that he wrote his novels in the Russian language, rather than using  any of the twelve other languages he knew.  The accepted language of communication for the Russian aristocracy was French, which their serfs could not understand.  Because the Russian literary language had been created specifically to translate the bible, the Russian Orthodox Church saw it as blasphemous to degrade the holy Russian language in the writing of ‘heathen’ folktales or novels.  The Anna Karenina novel scandalized many religious officials by its thoughtful critique of religious hypocrisy and judgementalism, and its rejection of violence.  He became a pacifist after fighting in the Crimea. 

Tolstoy chose Romans 12: 19 “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay” as an epigraph to Anna Karenina. Many people in life, even as Christians, are tempted to take revenge when they have been hurt.  Just think of all the trauma that the Ukrainian people have been through recently.  How could they ever forgive the Russians? Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, shows us again and again how tempting revenge is, yet how unsatisfying it is to the soul.  Kitty had to give up her desire for revenge regarding Anna & Vronsky before she could be well again and marry Levin.  Similarly, Levin had to forgive Kitty for initially rejecting his marriage proposal, before he could give her a second chance.  It is only when we trust that God alone will bring justice and fairness that we lose the need to even the score. Could God make a way where there is no way in the current mess between Russia and Ukraine?

Reading Anna Karenina reminds us of Isaiah 5:20 where it warns against calling evil good and good evil, putting darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Though Anna is initially used to save Dolly and Stepan Oblonsky’s marriage from his affair, everything following become a twisted web of deceit and half-truths. Again, it reminds us of Jeremiah 17:9 “our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked; who can understand them?”  Self-deception, which so many fell into, is the worst form of deception.  Often our eyes and ears are closed shut, and we refuse to hear and see. We often deceive ourselves that we know better than God himself and His Word. 

Anna was described as being clad in an impenetrable armour of falsehood.  Deception ultimately kills relationships, as it did with Anna and Count Vronsky.  Romans 3:23 has never stopped being true; the wages of sin and self-deception are still death.  Tolstoy symbolizes this at both the beginning and ending of the novel, where the railway station is the place not only of progress, but also of death.  Progress, for its own sake, only turns us into unfeeling machines.

By contrast, the joy of Levin and Kitty’s marriage was that it became a relationship without guile or deceit. They held back no secrets on each other. They were who they were, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.  As a result, they went from being tortured souls to becoming healthy souls.  What might it take for tortured Russia to rediscover the deeply Christ-like, profoundly human souls of Levin and Kitty?  Lord, have mercy on Russia and their neighbours, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Leave a comment

Angus Reid: 85% of Canadians Still Pray

By Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Does prayer still have a future in Canada?  At the 50th BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast, Dr. Angus Reid the keynote

Our Team - Angus Reid Institute

speaker gave us the latest Angus Reid Institute results from polling 1500 Canadians on prayer.  Held at the Vancouver Hyatt Regency, dignitaries like our former Premier Christie Clark and former Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson brought greetings to over 1,000 BC leaders.  Angus Reid, a well-known Canadian pollster, informed us that while weekly church attendance has dropped from 56% in 1966 to 15%, 85% of Canadians still pray, at least occasionally.  Reid found that weekly prayer by 40% of Canadians (12 million people) has remained relatively constant over the past century.  70% of Canadians who pray frequently say that their prayers are answered always or often, in contrast to just 25% of Canadians who pray infrequently.  Frequent pray-ers, said Reid, focus more on thanksgiving than in just asking for help.  Contrary to some snobbish stereotypes, he also found that university-educated Canadians (33%) are more likely to pray daily than high school dropouts (26%).  Reid’s data showed that new immigrants are twice as likely to be frequently prayers as native-born Canadians. This confirms my experience that new immigrants are much more open to the gospel and attending church than often jaded Canadians who come from a Christian heritage. It is no wonder that, according to Jonathan Bird of the Vancouver Consultation, one third of Vancouver churches conduct their worship in languages other than English.

Of particular interest was Reid’s discovery that childhood prayer greatly shapes one’s likeliness for praying as an adult: “If you prayed frequently as a child, the chance that you would be a non-prayer today is 7 percent (i.e 93% would be praying adults). If you didn’t pray as a child, the odds that you would be a frequent prayer today is 6 percent (i.e. 94% would be non-praying adults).   This reminds me as to how faith survived in Russia during the seventy years of atheistic communism.  The key was grandparents who taught their grandchildren how to pray even when their children were officially forbidden to attend Sunday School.  Many Canadian parents have bought into the tragic idea that it is better to not expose children to religion or church until they are adults, when they can ‘make up their own mind’.

Even though I did not meet Jesus until age 17, I was blessed to be taught to pray as a child by my mom, as well as in Sunday School.  Prayer was something that I linked with remembering one’s family before going to sleep, and in saying grace at the dining room table when my nana came to visit.  Imagine how we might shape the future of Canada if we invested in helping the new generation learn how to pray.  If we will prayerfully strengthen the new generation, then prayer will have a Canadian future.   Lord, teach us to pray.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News and the Light Magazine

P. S. Click this Amazon link to view for free the first two chapters of our new novel Blue Sky.

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident…”

12bdf6ff-3021-4e73-bccd-bc919398d1a0-7068-0000031133e7b4d9Sandy Brown and her family have just moved to Spokane, Washington where her husband, Scott, is pastoring a new church. With a fresh start, Sandy is determined to devote more time to her four children. But, within weeks of settling in their new life, the Brown family is plunged into turmoil.

Sandy receives shocking news that her children aren’t safe, which brings back haunting memories of the trauma she experienced as a girl. Then, the unthinkable happens…

A brutal attack puts Sandy on the brink of losing everything she’s loved. Her faith in God and the family she cherishes are pushed to the ultimate limit.

Is healing possible when so many loved ones are hurt? Are miracles really possible through the power of prayer? Can life return to the way it was before?

Blue Sky reveals how a mother’s most basic instinct isn’t for survival… but for family.

If you’re a fan of Karen Kingsbury, then you’ll love Blue Sky. Get your copy today on paperback or  kindle.

-Click to check out our marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you. 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a personally signed copy within North America, just etransfer at ed_hird@telus.net, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

To purchase any of our six books in paperback or ebook on Amazon, just click on this link.


5 Comments

Jolly Old St Nicholas

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

 

Ever since Coca-Cola decided to promote Santa Claus as part of their soft drink campaign, Santa or St. Nicholas became a household name in North America. Santa is from the Dutch word for Saint. Claus is again a Dutch contraction for Nicholas.

Do you remember back when John Lennon said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ? Do you remember the controversy? John, of course, was right. The Beatles were for a while more popular and more central for millions. So too is Santa Claus bigger than the baby Jesus at Christmas. As a young boy, St. Nicholas for me was the heart of Christmas. The fact that my mother insisted on dragging me to church on Christmas seemed to me like a horrible religious intrusion into an otherwise good holiday.

When I was 5 years old, though, I became suspicious when Santa kept appearing at all the different shopping centres. I calculated that no reindeer could fly that fast and be in so many places at once. Once I shared my conclusions with my five year old friends, I was amazed that some of my friends’ mothers were not as excited about my “findings” as I was!

Many years later I was surprised to discover that “yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus” History tells us that there was a real, live Santa Claus or St. Nicholas in the country of Turkey during the early 4th Century. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. He was a very faithful Christian who endured terrible suffering and imprisonment during the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303 A.D.

During this time, many church buildings were destroyed, bibles were burnt, and priests were murdered. As a result of his faithful suffering, Nicholas ended up being made Saint, the Patron Saint of sailors, Russia, and children. His symbol became 3 bags of gold, the dowry he was supposed to have given to three girls to save them from embarrassment. That, of course, is the origin of Santa bringing presents at Christmas.

The musician Randy Stonehill wrote in a Christmas song that “I know that if St. Nicholas was here, he would agree that Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me” It is quite clear that the real Santa Claus (Nicholas) loved Jesus very much, and was willing to suffer for his faith. I believe that if Santa Claus were here today, he would say “Don’t just leave Jesus in the Manger. Make room for Him in your heart, not only at Christmas, but all year round”

This Christmas may we all remember the words of that famous carol Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. “O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today..”

Merry Christmas!

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published in the North Shore News

-award-winning author of Battle for the Soul of Canada

P. S. Click this Amazon link to view for free the first two chapters of our new novel Blue Sky.

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident…”

12bdf6ff-3021-4e73-bccd-bc919398d1a0-7068-0000031133e7b4d9Sandy Brown and her family have just moved to Spokane, Washington where her husband, Scott, is pastoring a new church. With a fresh start, Sandy is determined to devote more time to her four children. But, within weeks of settling in their new life, the Brown family is plunged into turmoil.

Sandy receives shocking news that her children aren’t safe, which brings back haunting memories of the trauma she experienced as a girl. Then, the unthinkable happens…

A brutal attack puts Sandy on the brink of losing everything she’s loved. Her faith in God and the family she cherishes are pushed to the ultimate limit.

Is healing possible when so many loved ones are hurt? Are miracles really possible through the power of prayer? Can life return to the way it was before?

Blue Sky reveals how a mother’s most basic instinct isn’t for survival… but for family.

If you’re a fan of Karen Kingsbury, then you’ll love Blue Sky. Get your copy today on paperback or  kindle.

-Click to check out our marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

  •  

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just etransfer at ed_hird@telus.net, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

To purchase any of our six books in paperback or ebook on Amazon, just click on this link.