While reading Crime and Punishment last night, I came across a passage that made me realize something about myself. Though I am not a murderer, not being investigated by the police, and have a perfectly clear conscience, Lent is showing me that I am just like Dostoevsky’s character, Raskolnikov. Lent makes me annoyed at God.
He felt very miserable. If it had been possible to escape to some solitude, he would have thought himself lucky, even if he had to spend his whole life there. But although he had almost always been by himself of late, he had never been able to feel alone. Sometimes he walked out of the town on to the high road, once he had even reached a little wood, but the lonelier the place was, the more he seemed to be aware of an uneasy presence near him. It did not frighten him, but greatly annoyed him, so that he made haste to return to the town, to mingle with the crowd, to enter restaurants and taverns, to walk in busy thoroughfares. There he felt easier and even more solitary.
In this season of Lent, I am slowing down, praying, fasting. But that slowness and focus on God and my relationship with him, is showing me just how like Raskolnikov I am. I would rather feel “alone” by distracting myself, than sit with myself and the “uneasy presence” of my Creator.
In fact, I am so addicted to activity and accomplishment, that I have to put prayer on my to do list! I need the satisfaction of the checked box to motivate me to get on my knees. And despite that, it’s often the last thing that I do on my list.
In the book, Raskolnikov has to find a bar or busy city streets to distract himself from the “uneasy presence.” I, on the other hand, am amply supplied with distractions, not the least of which is the smartphone in my pocket. It was hard for him to attend to the Uneasy Presence in the 19th century; it’s that much harder for me when the trivial and mundane are a click or a swipe away. In his book, Disruptive Witness, Alan Noble calls this “the practice of continuous engagement in immediately gratifying activities that resist reflection and meditation” (1). He continues:
Outside of a culture of virtue grounded in an external source, science, technology, and the market have been driven to produce a society that prioritizes the sovereign individual. The modern person experiences a buffer between themselves and the world out there—including transcendent ideas and truths. The constant distraction of our culture shields us from the kind of deep, honest reflection needed to ask why we exist and what is true. (2)
It is my job to deal with, study, teach, and proclaim “transcendent truths” about the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Yet, I am so used to being distracted (and shielded from “deep, honest reflection”!) that Lent is making me annoyed at the God I’ve devoted my life to serving.
And yet, I’m encouraged. Because the revelation that I’m annoyed at God is a revelation of my sinfulness. I will scratch and claw and do all that I can to avoid dealing with the God who made me and loves me in Christ. I do that because I want to be a “sovereign individual.” I want to be in charge. The boss. The King.
But I’m not. And even if the main thing I’m learning in Lent is that I am more sinful than I realized, that will have made it worth it. Because the revelation of my sin is an opportunity to repent and believe the gospel again. It’s a reminder that Christ is a better King than I will ever be; he will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). So far, Lent has been a testament, not to my faithfulness, but to God’s. It’s showing me just how desperately I need his grace.
Slowly, I’m learning to sit and be in God’s presence. His constant, ever-faithful, never-leaving presence should not make me annoyed. It should give me joy, because it’s good news.