Leo Tolstoy, excerpt from a personal letter

“What about you, Lev Nikolayevich, you preach very well, but do you carry out what you preach?” This is the most natural of questions and one that is always asked of me; it is usually asked victoriously, as though it were a way of stopping my mouth. “You preach, but how do you live?” And I answer that I do not preach, that I am not able to preach, although I passionately wish to. I can preach only through my actions, and my actions are vile. … And I answer that I am guilty, and vile, and worthy of contempt for my failure to carry them out.

At the same time, not in order to justify, but simply in order to explain my lack of consistency, I say: Look at my present life and then at my former life, and you will see that I do attempt to carry them out. It is true that I have not fulfilled one thousandth part of them [Christian precepts], and I am ashamed of this, but I have failed to fulfill them not because I did not wish to, but because I was unable to. Teach me how to escape from the net of temptations that surrounds me, help me and I will fulfill them; even without help I wish and hope to fulfill them.

Attack me, I do this myself, but attack me rather than the path I follow and which I point out to anyone who asks me where I think it lies. If I know the way home and am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way because I am staggering from side to side! If it is not the right way, then show me another way; but if I stagger and lose the way, you must help me, you must keep me on the true path, just as I am ready to support you. Do not mislead me, do not be glad that I have got lost, do not shout out joyfully: “Look at him! He said he was going home, but there he is crawling into a bog!” No, do not gloat, but give me your help and support.

— Leo Tolstoy, excerpt from a personal letter

4 thoughts on “Leo Tolstoy, excerpt from a personal letter

  1. So he was human? Tolstoy is one of those we put on a pedestal. There is always a danger in that.

  2. Oh yeah. I’ve only discovered him within the last two years actually. I was reading a book you are probably familiar with: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey and came across this letter I’ve posted.
    I don’t intentionally idolize him but in a way I do unconsciously because I so value his thought. This letter especially hits home with me. It also makes Tolstoy a man of likeness with Augustine of Hippo and Paul of Damascus, eh?
    CS Lewis is like that for me too.
    Why don’t we start a CS Lewis and Leo Tolstoy-based church?

  3. Question: This quoted personal letter… is it from the Kingdom book of his or another?
    If another which one?
    Just got Tolstoy’s kingdom one, children fable/fairy tale one, and War and Peace at the library.
    Left War and Peace behind, but thought I would look at the kingdom one, and let my child look at the other in the meantime.

    1. Wow, hi Lisa.
      Holy cow!!! It’s now October 25 and I am just seeing your comment for the first time. I am sorry.
      I wondered what happened to you. Sheeesh!
      The quoted personal letter as far as I know is just a quoted personal letter.
      I first read it in a book called “The Jesus I Never Knew” by Philip Yancey. [http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-I-Never-Knew/dp/0310385709]
      It’s a really informative and thought provoking book.
      Now I’m being blown away by another Tolstoy book.
      “The Life of Jesus: The Gospel in Brief”
      Please find me on Facebook and we can reconnect and talk about this subject in greater depth.
      These things are transforming me and my entire understanding of following Christ and the dangers of all religion.
      Also, you might want to check out “The Subversion of Christianity”
      by Jacques Ellul. He is a French theologian and if you are French-speaking, you may even want to find the book in his language.

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