The means to gain happiness
is to throw out from oneself,
like a spider, in all directions,
an adhesive web of love,
and to catch in it
all that comes.
I love this quote from Tolstoy. So much has been written about love by poets, songwriters and those who are head over heels in love, but this is the first reference to “throwing out an adhesive web of love” that I have ever read. Like the Apostle Paul, Tolstoy had an amazing transformation that made it plain to him that he had missed the boat in his life. He was a successful Russian writer of great aclaim, but his life was empty. He experienced a depression during which he questioned everything about his life and the life of all mankind. His entire system of beliefs seemed to crumble right before him, and it almost killed him. In order to survive and reorder his belief system, he held tight to one belief – that God existed. For him, it was the only thing that gave meaning to life. Many others have shared his struggle. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, “The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” For Tolstoy the truth was that God existed and was manifested in love.
Leo Tolstoy - 1908
Tolstoy received much critisism after his conversion experience, and many doubted his sincerity. However, if you have read “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” which was his first work after his conversion, I don’t think you could have much doubt that he truly experienced a spiritual awakening. For me, it is in every page of the story in a way that I don’t believe could be written by anyone that had not come to a truthful understanding of what is valuable in our lives. In the above quotation, he lays it out for us – it is love. That is what brings real joy and happiness. He discovered these truths toward the end of his life, but not too late for him to experience true love and not too late for his readers to understand the value in life by reading “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” If you are searching for the meaning in your life, give it a try. Read the book. You have nothing to lose.
Here’s to love – have a happy journey!
Leo Tolstoy is a name that most people know from his brilliant books War and Peace and Anna Karenina. However, I believe that his most important works were written after these and after he experienced a true conversion experience. Just like the Apostle Paul, he had a crisis in his personal life. He had not lived in a Godly manner. He came to question everything about his own life and mankind in general. He felt empty inside and knew he must find a purpose to life or he had no reason to carry on. He found his answer in the Bible in Luke 17:21:
Tolstoy felt overwhelmed with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, especially as it took the shape of violence and murder. In his book, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, he advocates a non-violent society, a subject that Gandhi advanced after reading Tolstoy’s book while he was imprisoned. Banned by the government of Russia, the book was published in Germany. Tolstoy believed that there were two possibilities for mankind – to live for gratification and material security or to live for the advancement of the spiritual soul. He wrote of these choices in his masterpiece The Death of Ivan Ilych, which is well worth the time to read. It is the heartbreaking story of one man’s life and death. The protagonist, Ivan Ilych, lived his life for purely material gratification and status in Russian society. He doesn’t realize the fallacy of this until death is imminent, and sadly, when he died, his family still believed the lie.
Tolstoy lived his beliefs. He gave away his material possessions and sought to live as Jesus advocated in the Sermon on the Mount. At age 83, he denounced his rank and privileges and put on the dress of the peasant. He gave all his possessions to his family and peasants and set out on foot. He later caught a chill and died in a stationmaster’s house. By his death, his fellow Russians took note of the changes in his life after finding Jesus Christ.
Tolstoy is not without criticism for his beliefs and philosophies, as are most people who want to take a stand for Jesus Christ. Read through his later books and make that determination for yourself. I don’t think you will regret it!
Have a happy journey!