Fyodor Dostoevsky on the Problem of Evil
The Brothers Karamazov
"I must make one confession," Ivan began. "I could never understand how one can love one's
neighbours. It's just one's neighbours, to my mind, that one can't love, though one might love
those at a distance. I once read somewhere of John the Merciful, a saint, that when a hungry,
frozen beggar came to him, he took him into his bed, held him in his arms, and began breathing
into his mouth, which was putrid and loathsome from some awful disease. I am convinced that he
did that from 'self-laceration,' from the self-laceration of falsity, for the sake of the charity imposed
by duty, as a penance laid on him. For anyone to love a man, he must be hidden, for as soon as
he shows his face, love is gone."
"Father Zossima has talked of that more than once," observed Alyosha. "He, too, said that the
face of a man often hinders many people not practised in love, from loving him. But yet there's a
great deal of love in mankind, and almost Christ-like love. I know that myself, Ivan."
"Well, I know nothing of it so far, and can't understand it, and the innumerable mass of mankind
are with me there. The question is, whether that's due to men's bad qualities or whether it's
inherent in their nature. To my thinking, Christ-like love for men is a miracle impossible on earth.
He was God. But we are not gods. Suppose I, for instance, suffer intensely. Another can never
know how much I suffer, because he is another and not I. And what's more, a man is rarely ready
to admit another's suffering (as though it were a distinction). Why won't he admit it, do you think?
Because I smell unpleasant, because I have a stupid face, because I once trod on his foot.
Besides, there is suffering and suffering; degrading, humiliating suffering such as humbles me—
hunger, for instance—my benefactor will perhaps allow me; but when you come to higher
suffering—for an idea, for instance—he will very rarely admit that, perhaps because my face
strikes him as not at all what he fancies a man should have who suffers for an idea. And so he
deprives me instantly of his favour, and not at all from badness of heart. Beggars, especially
genteel beggars, ought never to show themselves, but to ask for charity through the newspapers.
One can love one's neighbours in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it's
almost impossible. If it were as on the stage, in the ballet, where if beggars come in, they wear
silken rags and tattered lace and beg for alms dancing gracefully, then one might like looking at