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Tolstoy and Eikons of God

I have been skipping through some of Leo Tolstoy of late, and came upon William Shirer’s incredibly insightful study, Love and Hatred, which details the turbulent relationship of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy. For years and years they fought and warred and called one another hateful things, and then worked out their feelings in their diaries. The pattern was set: fight all day long, write about it at night, apologize, make up (which they didn’t always do), and then start all over with the same cycle of violent emotions the next day.

And what got me going was that Tolstoy converted to the gospel of peace and nonviolence, chucked all his previous thoughts and dreams, and in such a state couldn’t bring it to bear on his relationship with his wife — whom he loved. She loved him, too.


When he died in the cottage across the street from the forlorn train station, he did so because he had run from his wife and the turbulence at home.

I’ve been writing a book, A Weekend called Grace, in which I am seeking to explain the gospel by explaining that we don’t understand the gospel until we learn that we are “eikons” of God (images of God; “eikon” is the Greek term; I think “image” is too colorless, and the Hebrew “tselem” will get you nowhere!). Made as “eikons,” designed to reflect God’s glory to all around us, we choose to sin and are hence “cracked eikons.”

Is this what explains the turbulence of Tolstoy? Why couldn’t he be more eikonic in his real life?

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Vern Hyndman

posted April 17, 2005 at 8:16 am

Hey Scott! I’m a fan of Tolstoy because some of his statements blow me away. I am reading his calendar, and I am puzzled by some of what he supports. Could be my ignorance showing.I think that difference between his ability see eikonism and his inability to be and eikon in his marriage is age old… knowing intellectually by not being able to know emotionally. The difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.My favorite Tolstoy through the lense of Yancy.I’m not a pacifist, but I don’t see things as either/or. I am not a war monger, but I see instances when using force against an entity is necessary. God did too. I bet you’re not completely a pacifist either… Do you support police use of deadly force? Assuming yes, is that pacifist? Do you see a disconnect between managing behavior of individuals and managing behavior of governments?

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Scot McKnight

posted April 17, 2005 at 8:51 am

Vern,When it comes to pacifism, I am talking about the Christian and the State and how a Christian participates in what the State decides to be (one would hope a just) war.Pacifism in all its varieties (Yoder’s Nevertheless book is good here) has always had some difficulties with the use of “force.” Most, so far as I can tell, think “force” is sometimes necessary, but should never get to the point of putting someone to death.My question about Eikons is more general: why is that humans are to be Eikons but can’t manage to get the job done? What is it about us that keeps us from being what we know we should be? A bit of Romans 7 here.

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Vern Hyndman

posted April 17, 2005 at 10:51 am

I hope to read Yoder some day, sounds like an interesting read. I work as a volunteer counselor in jail, and have to say that sometimes, notwithstanding tazers and mace, someone needs to be shot dead. Most inmates also see the need for this, and most that I have talked to are not angry about having been shot themselves. Even they see the need for force.I know the issue well between knowing and doing, as I have known for most of my life, and have been doing for only the last few years, and my doing falls way short.I like the Tolstoy quote regarding this because, Christianity alone measures spiritual maturity based on our own knowledge of our imperfection. Externals are not the deal. Doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything, but it does mean that our ability to do and our propensity to do are not indicators directly of spiritual maturity.As an engineer, we used to say, “the more I learn, the less I know”, as well as the extension, “someday I’ll know nothing about everything”. Knowing is the first step to doing. Blogging for me has really helped with knowing.I developed this to teach my students about knowing.

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