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The Grand Inquisitor: Would we recognize Christ?

"For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for.  Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance.  That is true.  But what happened? Instead of taking men's freedom from then thou didst make it greater than ever!  Didst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering."  (The Brothers Karamazov, pg. 234)

In this powerful quote "The Grand Inquisitor" argues with Jesus about the nature of free will and choice.  This ingenious encounter is part of a large poem written by Ivan Karamazov as a way of proving his doubt of faith. The poem takes place during the 16th century, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.  The premise of the poem is that the "Grand Inquisitor" is an agent working for the church who ruthlessly hunts, seeks to destroy anyone who opposes church teaching.  In the midst of all this turmoil Jesus come once again down to earth.  Jesus is instantly revered, and attracts a huge and devoted following. Because of his popularity and message of freedom and love the inquisitor arrests Jesus, and subsequently sentences him to death.

While Jesus is awaiting trial the inquisitor visits Jesus in his prison cell and begins to explain his opposition to his teachings.  His main argument is that Jesus' greatest error was that he gave people freedom of choice.  This freedom the inquisitor argues strips away man's security,  creating a life of extreme chaos and confusion.  The inquisitor argues that this freedom of choice has destroyed the church.  The inquisitor, who turns out to be an agent working for the devil goes on to explain that his church is the true church, the way it was supposed to be.  His church, promises security, and comfort.  His church also does not allow for it's believers to exercise their free will.  The followers instead are told what to do and for this exchange of personal independence they are guaranteed a lifetime of security, even if it causes them eternal damnation in the future.

This passage elicited two questions in me: 1) Is free will truly a gift from Christ? or is it a source of great suffering like the inquisitor argues? 2) If Jesus came down from heaven today would our church recognize him or wrongly imprison him again like the inquisitor did? 

Sit and ponder these questions.  I will revisit these themes in another blog.


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