Monday, March 25, 2013

A Bogus Dostovesky Quote

"He who desires to see the living God face to face should not seek Him in the empty firmament of his mind, but in human love."

                                                             -Feodor Dostoevsky

This past weekend a reader sent me an email asking about the validity of this quote. It's being repeated in a lot of books on marriage and relationships, and is often used in the context of suggesting that we should use our brain when it comes to knowing God.

Dostovesky adds a lot of weight to that in some people's minds, though he was hardly an expert in things like the social world of the Bible. The bad news is that while it's an overall genuine quote, it wasn't Dostovesky who said it.

I traced people using it as a Dostovesky quote in the early 70s, but far earlier than that -- in 1913 -- it was used by an author named Romain Rolland, in a novel series with the title character Jean-Chrisophe. As used there, it is clearly Rolland's own words, and it reads slightly differently:

  If any man would see the living God face to face, he must seek Him, not in the empty firmament of his own brain, but in the love of men.

Now Rolland was by no means a slouch. He won a Nobel Prize for literature. But he was also not a Christian, as Dostovesky was. So by no means should Christian author think this quote has any bearing on what Dostovesky believed as a Christian -- and for all who use it, it ought to have a lot less "star power".

Well, that was fun. Here's a screen capture from one of Rolland's works to verify.