The Gospel of the Crucified Idiot

Reading Time: 3 mins

At the heart of The Idiot is Dostoevsky's confession of faith and the confession of all Christians.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot, the main character, Prince Mishkin, is depicted as a degraded and ineffectual savior. He is an idealist and a weak imitation of Jesus Christ. Dostoevsky presents Prince Mishkin as a narrative foil – a mirror held up to the face of bourgeois Russian society – who exposes the degradation, coarseness, vulgarity, and blasphemies of those who consider themselves to be good Christian people but have no actual use for the biblical Christ.

When Prince Mishkin interacts with people, their dialogue forms an inverted prayer. A profanation of God's name. His physical presence evokes confessions that expose everyone who engages him. Some would like to see Mishkin killed in place of themselves. He elicits confessions of guilt, disobedience, brutality, and animosity towards God because people interpret Mishkin as an enemy of all that is good, right, and holy. But, in an ironic twist, the consequence of these confessions is that many also come to envy his seemingly divine character.

We can learn much from Dostoevsky by reading The Idiot because he is a deft biblical exegete. The author employs a truth that he traces back to the beginning of Scripture, back to Adam and Eve's disobedience and the consequent brutality of their children to the present.

Our first parents cursed God because after they sought God outside of his words, they interpreted him as an enemy. Following their eating of the forbidden fruit, God was no longer the God of the promise but the God of the curse. God was their rival. They envied God's divinity, which was expressed as violence towards God and others. This is a sentiment that, for Dostoevsky, is still shared by the modern world.

In The Idiot, many people who interact with Prince Mishkin assume they're God-fearing believers, and the prince is a pathetic figure who represents all that is degraded and coarse about the world since the fall. But this is Dostoevsky's point: sinners see God as the source of all that is coarse, profane, and vulgar in the world. By using this narrative foil, Dostoevsky exposed and condemned bourgeois Russian society but, at the same time, all sinners.

The sad fact is the people that Mishkin encounters take the viewpoint of the serpent. Satan, for Dostoevsky, is behind the violent image sinners have always formed about their gods and true God. So when God comes to us, we treat him as our opponent and someone who needs to be exorcized from our lives through mockery, ridicule, and curses.

That's why the people in Dostoevsky's novel revolt against Prince Mishkin's presence (which is actually Jesus' presence). They hate and envy him. For the author, bourgeois Russian society doesn't represent the Christian faith that is wholly enraptured by Jesus Christ's sacrifice for the sin of the world, but the spirit of the antichrist with its propensity for evil no longer covered up in any way but poured out on Mishkin. They become the prosecutors of the persecuted rather than following Jesus' example of defending the victim of sin, death, and Satan.

In Christ, all victims of sin, death, and Satan (as David confesses in the imprecatory psalms) cry out to God to take revenge against the unholy trinity and their allies, their persecutors.

The Idiot, who is Jesus Christ, the crucified God, comes to his people, and his people do not receive him. Instead, they treat the virgin birth as a sex-phobic sublimation. His incarnation is viewed as a plagiarized version of the Amphitryon story. His Church is condemned as an institutionalized symbol of oppression and violence. God's free election of sinners is derided. His Supper is viewed as an archaic blood rite that has no relevant value. The resurrection to eternal life is rejected as a fairy tale.

And yet, at the heart of The Idiot is Dostoevsky's confession of faith and the confession of all Christians. As sinners move in for the kill, to make our final assault on our hateful prey, God permits it. God gave his only Son for the remission of all our sins as a victim. Jesus is OUR sacrifice in its most barbaric, repulsive form. The sacrifice of the innocent for the sins of the wicked. Our horrifying paganism traps us, the original sin which we cannot escape from, and in allowing us to slaughter him, God traps sin, death, and Satan too. And in Jesus' resurrection, sin, death, and Satan are wholly defeated, and we are repaid double for our sin, which is actually tripled because God loves to deliver his good gifts to us in threes: forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation.

For Dostoevsky, that's the gospel of the crucified Idiot.