This summer, I had to read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky as assigned reading. When I first started the book, I was frustrated, because it seemed like a boring and useless way to spend my summer. (And that’s coming from someone who likes books.) But about halfway through, things started to make sense and I began to enjoy it.
The novel isn’t called a classic for no reason. The characters are masterpieces in and of themselves. It is known as one of the first psychological thrillers. Although some parts really were thrilling, it was the psychology that intrigued me.
In case you’ve never heard of this book, I’ll give you some background. The story is about a young Russian student who decides to quit college because he is poor and can’t afford it. He then contemplates killing a horrid pawnbroker who cheats people out of their money. The money-desperate student hates the idea and pushes it to the back of his mind. However, over time, he can’t get rid of it. He ends up killing her and the rest of the book is about his conscience and the way the murder affects him and his relationships.
In the story, the young man has a theory about humankind. To explain it quickly, he divides humanity into two groups: the inferior group, and the superior group. Inferior humans have to abide by the law and have little value. They follow whatever the superior humans do. The “superiors” have the right to kill to accomplish their goals. This right isn’t a legal one, it’s just something that is necessary to bring actual change to the world. His example is Napoleon: according to the young man, Napoleon brought great change to society, but he did it through slaughtering thousands. Was it necessary? In his eyes, yes.
So that’s his theory in a nutshell. It’s also what he uses to justify his murder of the pawnbroker at first. Throughout the story, he grows more and more aware of, and at the same time more and more resentful to the fact that his theory was wrong. He doesn’t want to admit that he isn’t superior, and his theory itself isn’t valid.
In the last couple of paragraphs of the book, the young man is in a prison camp. He’s gone through excruciating hardship, which was his own fault, and he is looking into the future. He realizes he loves someone and he wonders what life will be like when he gets out of prison. (And to find out who that someone is, you’ll just have to read the book. She’s one of my favorite characters.)
And then there’s this line:
“Life had taken theories’ place.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about that sentence for weeks.
How many young people have theories? How many young people are passionate about the ideas they have? How many young people get in arguments and riot and yell – all because they cling to a “theory”?
The answer to those questions is quite obvious: most young people have theories or ideas and are passionate about them. Myself included.
But here’s the thing: only ideas grounded in life experience and wisdom will stand the test of time.
And here’s the dilemma: young people don’t have life experience. At least, not that much of it – we think we know a lot more than we actually do.
So how do we fix this? How do we make sure that our ideas aren’t baloney? How do we make sure our theories are well-grounded and that we are fighting for the right things?
To that I have two answers:
- The Bible
- People who are much wiser than us
God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Ultimate wisdom and truth are found in Christ. When we root ourselves and are built up in Him (Colossians 2:7), we will gain wisdom. The more a young person is hiding God’s truths in their heart, the wiser they become. This is an amazing privilege because as teenagers and twenty-somethings, we don’t have that much life experience or personally-gained wisdom. However, if we hide God’s Word in our hearts, we will become much wiser than the average young person.
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Wisdom is a treasure. According to Proverbs, one of the places we can find that treasure is our parents. They have more life experience than us and they are wiser than us. We should be quick to listen to their words.
Young people should also be listening to other people around them who are wiser. Teachers, grandparents, wise (and perhaps older) friends, elderly believers, pastors, mentors, etc. We all have people in our circles who we can listen to and learn from.
The young man in Crime and Punishment discovered that life is much more reliable than mere theories. Real experiences are more valuable than intangible ideas. Wisdom is gained as one gains years.
Dear young person, you don’t know everything. You actually know much less than you think. Be humble. Be quick to listen. Learn from wise and godly people around you. This will serve you far more than any endeavor for a theory or cause.
Then maybe we’ll become wiser, earlier.