I’m reading Crime and Punishment.  The sophomores slogged through it in January after Christmas and I thought I’d give it a go, so as to plug one of the many gaping holes in my literature background. (don’t tell anyone, but this UVa grad double-majored in Russian Studies & Foreign Affairs without EVER reading Dostoevsky in Russian, let alone English!)

Already by page 60, my mind is whirring with frightening thoughts.  The protagonist, a poor university student who has just pawned some family heirlooms for drink, is captured by the idea of killing the very pawn-broker.  He overhears that the rich, but cruel old woman treats her feeble-minded younger step-sister with manipulative severity. At a tavern, two men hypothesize that the ‘good’ achieved by distributing the dead woman’s hoarded rubles would outweigh the ‘bad’ of murder.

Setting aside the moral reasoning, the young man feels gripped with an idea that he can’t escape.  Having visualized himself carrying out the crime, he is helplessly compelled.

This fatalistic plot reminds me of my former upside-down reasoning when I was in the throes of bulimia. Here’s how I would rationally pre-meditate a binge: “If I can picture myself consuming an entire store-bought bag of chocolate chip cookies, one after the other, then I have to carry it out.”  And I ALWAYS followed through.  I never said, “Maria – that is CRAZY logic!”  (But thanks be to God – who rescued me from that perverse pit in my mid-20s.  How did He do that?  Not by will-power or effort, but by the ‘renewing of my mind’.)

I think the Nazis must have lived by the same dark logic.  If they could creatively invent a new way of ‘eliminating’ Jews, then they had to carry it out. When people point fingers at murderers and categorize them as ‘Other’, I often think, “That could be me, given the ‘right’ circumstances.” I am not surprised by evil, because I know me!!

But why shouldn’t you smother someone sleeping………. or eat all the cookies……..or pull the fire alarm to see what will happen……… or ‘key’ a car……… or destroy a pear tree’s fruit for the sake of the idea (pre-Christian Augustine’s childhood prank)?  Horrid ideas flutter through our minds more than occasionally, don’t they?  Or am I the only one?  There’s got to be a compelling reason not to act on them.

Last night, reading this fictional character’s thought process scared me. The familiar feelings evoked in me were like that of one of our indoor cats who somehow finds himself on the outside of his safe boundary.  Once, Luther slipped through a cracked back door to chase after a possum. The possum skedaddled and all of a sudden Luther realized his new identity and location as ‘a stranger in a    strange land.’   He didn’t know how to act outside the house!   Luther on the Scanner - Dec 08

Fortunately for him and to my great relief, Mike was able to capture lost Luther and set him back inside his usual habitat. The reassuring four walls proscribe the freedom he can safely enjoy.  That is how it is with us as Christians.  No boundaries – no limits to what we can do.  And what the mind can conceive, the body can carry out: no matter how perverse (to wit – our current culture).

I’m not proud to admit it but when I went off to college, my mother’s way of dealing with boundaries was simply to say, “Nice girls don’t”.  That was not compelling.

Even though Mike and I became Christians in our early 20s, it has taken us 3 decades to understand and internalize the FACT of Jesus’ love for us. As we absorb the logical ramifications of His history-changing act, our sense of identity is slowly changing. Who you are DOES affect what you DO.

I like my boundaries.  I NEED to know God’s kids don’t do XYZ because of who they are in Christ.  My life is much simpler with fewer choices.

In summary, the compelling reason to abstain from my innate deceptively wicked mind & heart is two-fold:

  1. For the 3 score & ten:  ‘Gospel-logic living’ is both easier AND peace-promoting. (peace with God & peace with self because of Christ’s work on the cross on my behalf)
  2. The promise of a future life as one of the heirs to an amazing, mind-boggling, better-than-we-can-ask-or imagine forever life with a happy holy trinity, myriads of to-be-discovered brothers & sisters, and awesome angels.

I like my sheepfold, as did David inspiring him to pen with poetry, ‘the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;  surely I have a delightful inheritance’. (Psalm 16:6)

Do I really want to invest more time with Crime & Punishment?  One of my students in French 4 says it is one of the best books she has ever read.  On that recommendation, I will read on.