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Freedom and Choice

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F. Dostoevsky

F. Dostoevsky Русский: Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский Suomi: Fjodor Mihailovitš Dostojevski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saturday was my day off. It is the day of the week that I have designated for “me” time. It is the day without schedule, without ‘have to’, without commitments. It is the day that I only do what I want.

Usually I love these days. I have time to read books, call friends, hang out with my husband. I play “Jesu, joy of men’s desire” over and over again. I go for long walks in the woods. It is my weekly mini-retreat.

Last Saturday I hated it. It was horrible.

Dostoyevsky writes about the burden of freedom and choice in the Brothers Karamazov. One of the three brothers, Ivan, tells his younger brother Alyosha the tale of Jesus and the Great Inquisitor.

Jesus returns to Sevilla, during the time of the great Inquisition. He shares His compassion, He listens, talks, helps and heals. People all over follow Him.

At the peak of His ‘popularity’ He is put in prison. He is sentenced to death by burning. The Great Inquisitor visits Him the night before His execution. He offers Him life in return for His willingness to perform a miracle, forsake God, and accept power over the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refuses.

I have always loved this story. I feel compassion in how Dostoyevsky writes about both.

The Great Inquisitor cares deeply for ‘his’ people. He blames Jesus for offering freedom. In this freedom people have nothing to hold on to, nothing to hide behind, no excuses for their choices. They are the only ones responsible for their thoughts, speech and actions. And for the results they create. If they fail, that’s their responsibility. If they succeed, that’s their responsibility. Jesus takes away their scapegoat, and the people are left naked in their vulnerability of ambiguous conscience.

The Great Inquisitor claims that he offers the people a more compassionate alternative. He presents himself as the authority and judge of good and evil. He tells the people how to live. As a result people are free from the burden of choosing. They are free from second guessing, doubts, and regrets. Within his constraints, they can live happily ever after.

In return, the Great Inquisitor carries the burden of choosing, and accepting responsibility and accountability for his choices. He thinks that better than Jesus’s alternative of letting people make their own choices and suffer from regret, doubt, self-blame and insecurity.

As I sit on the couch, wondering if I should participate in the teleconference, or not, if I should go to the Hanukkah celebration, or not, as I end up just sitting, I am reminded of Dostoyevsky‘s parable. I feel consoled. Making choices is tough. Dostoyevsky says so.

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

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