I'm about halfway through War and Peace, and I love it. It will definitely make my top ten all time favorite books. (Before you read on, please take a moment to be very impressed that I am reading this book.) I love the way Tolstoy paints characters. He sees human nature with a penetrating eye. One of the characters, Pierre Bezukhov, is painfully familiar. He is compassionate, open-hearted and has the best intentions and principles. But when it is time to make a difficult decision or act on those principles, he never chooses the hard, right thing. He always takes the easy path. He has difficulty detecting when someone around him is flattering him. He assumes that they are sincere. At first glance it seems that he makes this assumption because he is a kind-hearted man with a generous spirit. That is not the real reason, though. The real reason is arrogance. It just doesn't appear to be arrogance because he truly is kind. Here are a couple of quotes about him that were uncomfortable to read:
Volume I, Part III, Chapter I
"It seemed so natural to Pierre that he should be liked by one and all, and it would have seemed so unnatural if anyone had not liked him, that he couldn't help believing in the sincerity of everyone around him."
Volume II, Part V, Chapter I
Pierre has slipped back into the indulgent lifestyle of an idol rich man.
"It took him a very long time to become reconciled to the idea that he was the very model of a retired Moscow gentleman-in-waiting, a type he had found so profoundly repellend seven years ago.
Sometimes he consoled himself with the idea that it didn't matter - this was only a passing phase - only to be struck by the horrifying thought that plenty of others had gone through the same 'passing phase', embarking on this kind of life and joining this club with all their teeth and hair and leaving when they were toothless and bald."
This reminds me of visiting a church a few years ago. There was a 60-ish year old woman in the row in front of me. She looked angry and dissatisfied - not in the moment but in life. It just hit me that I will be that age, and probably sooner rather than later. At the time there were things I knew the Lord wanted me to do - simple but hard things for me. It didn't feel like I was deciding to disobey. it felt like I was waiting until later. I have this underlying assumption that I will eventually live in obedience to God. Looking at this older woman - who may well have been a wonderful, gracious, Godly woman but for some reason represented bitter wasted time to me - revealed the foolishness of that assumption. The thing is, I always could have stated with absolute sincerity that in things of God, "not yet" equals "no". It is in my religion but often not in my economics.* I think C.S. Lewis describes that phenomenon in The Screwtape Letters. It is very dangerous to genuinely believe a truth and be unable to see the way you habitually live in defiance of it.
*There is a quote in the introduction to Freakonomics (I think) that says something like "If you want to understand a culture's ideals, study their religion. If you want to understand what they actually do, study their economics."
**All of the War and Peace quotes are from the Anthony Briggs translation here.
***I'm trying to do book posts on Saturdays. Check out Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.