Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Anna Karenina and Conflicting Desires

Beginning my summer reading, I chose to select Leo Tolstoy's class Anna Karenina. This is my first attempt at Russian literature, a challenge which I had long desired to pursue. As I have read through the first 300 pages (out of 800 something...) the impressions of mankind's brokenness emerges. Anna is a proud, confident, strong, and beautiful woman; yet inwardly decaying from a deprivation of love and respect.

Like all sins, Anna's transgression is a perverted holy desire. Anna's need is legitimate and righteous. Alexei, the protagonist's husband, is a cold, cynical, and legalistic man. I have not yet learned why the two married; more than likely an arranged marriage. Alexei uses sarcasm and religion as his means of relating to his wife. Love is only a social construction that means nothing for Alexei. Anna is unaware of how love can feel. Her heart is touched by a youthful and wild admirer, Vronsky. An affair rapidly unfolds, leaving Anna's structured and Siberian winter world into a chaotic, burning mess. Anna is stuck in two worlds, straddling the fence of what is right and what is desired.

As Christians we all have conflicting struggles that define part of our life journey through the process of sanctification. Often what is righteous is not always the natural choice. Sometimes the struggle has arisen from outside factors that were not of our doing. For instance, there are many to be blamed for Anna's predicament. A society that forces women to marry men because they have not the luxury to wait until the preferred man proposes is partly to be blamed. Husbands who will not love their wives as Christ loved the church, and worst yet, egregiously distort scripture to justify their actions, is also to be condemned. These examples are not stated to insinuate that one can elect to sin because circumstances were not in one's favor. Yet, Christians are too quick to judge others without empathizing and understanding why individuals make decisions that violate God's principles.

Even when events are out of our hands, desires must be scrutinized through the lens of scripture. Jeremiah 17:9 states that our hearts (minds) are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Perhaps rhetorically, Jeremiah questions who is capable of knowing the true intentions of one's feelings, thoughts, and will. Following the path of infatuation led Anna into 800 pages of one of literature's most tragic tales. Sin may be the most desirable or reasonable choice for the present, but God has set prohibitions not to tease and crush our pleasure, but to spare us from the heartache of what inevitably follows. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.

Truth be told, when situations are difficult and agonizing, the only thing we can do is rely on God's strength to sustain us and make the best of a wretched situation. God never promised that timely, worldly life would be a Garden of Eden. God never guaranteed that all His children would be endowed with life-long health, wealth, beauty, prestige, and power. God has promised to never forsake us and to always love us unconditionally. Anna's situation is tragic. There is no denying that her fictitious life was unfair. There are no easy answers. There is a lot of suffering in living. But God weeps with us in our pain and helps use our pain for a greater purpose. When I am conflicted, my hope is that I will naturally desire what is good above what I think I want. This process is like developing an acquired taste. It takes time--maybe an entire life. The end of the righteous life is one with less regret and hope that one has made a minor impact on the history of time and the increase of God's kingdom. Think ahead in the struggle; it offers a different framework to view the battle of desires.



  1. Hey Seth,

    Completely unrelated to your main point, I thought I should let you know that they re-did Tolstoy's classic as a robot action novel, called "Android Karenina".

    Second, in what way does "taking the long view" help in the struggle of desires?

  2. Interesting. :)

    I believe that every action has a consequence. Not all bad choices have immediate repercussions, but anything that is outside of God's design will eventually only deliver heartache and regret. Bad habits can lead to egregious sins. I don't mean to sound legalistic, but at the same time we should be mindful of the implications of our thoughts, words, and actions. That's my take on it anyway. Looking toward the future and where we eventually hope to be can be a wonderful intervention.

  3. I know, I'm kind of interested in how they'll mix up the two genres. Tolstoy is awesome, but Terminator is a different kind of awesome; together, they'll be super awesome. Or super horrible. Either way, I'm picking up a copy. 8)

    On thinking about the future, I hear you. Sometimes, though, it's easy to say "Well, the consequence is far off, and I can just ask God for forgiveness." Behind most habitual sin, I think, there is a casual attitude of flippancy towards rebellion against God--a definite abuse and misunderstanding of grace. Any ideas about how to fight that kind of attitude off? Maybe I'm overstating in saying this, but I feel pretty comfortable asserting that everyone deals with that kind of habitual sin (for example lying, or treating others poorly, or something else of that nature).


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